George County

‘She was in fear of him,’ judge says before finding Miss. lawmaker not guilty of domestic violence

Mississippi Rep. Douglas McLeod was found not guilty of domestic violence Tuesday, after his wife unexpectedly took the stand and testified on his behalf.

Michele McLeod said that on the evening of May 18, her husband had drunk less than two tumblers full of wine and mixed them with prescription-strength ibuprofen. She said he was “in a state of delirium” when one of his limbs, “probably his arm,” hit her face.

George County Justice Court Judge Mike Bullock said, before making his verdict, that he could understand how the hit could have happened accidentally after her testimony.

“I need my husband,” Michele McLeod said after the verdict. She and the Republican lawmaker then embraced as family surrounded them.

Michele McLeod testified that after she realized she was bleeding, she ran upstairs, where friend Magen Merrill was staying, because she needed Merrill to go downstairs and get ice for her wound.

But her friend of four years who often watches the couple’s dogs did not get ice for her injury.

Merrill testified earlier Tuesday that Michele McLeod ran into the bedroom, hand over face, saying she had been hit by her husband. Merrill, in turn, locked the door and called 911.

Michele McLeod said that Megan often “gets excited” and could have overreacted.

“It did look like someone could have punched me in the nose,” Michele McLeod said, adding that Merrill’s “imagination ran wild.”

Merrill teared up as Michele McLeod testified.

“I just wanted to do the right thing,” Merrill told the Sun Herald after court.

‘I was never assaulted’

Defense attorney Christopher Dobbins asked Michele McLeod to explain what happened that night.

Michele McLeod said her husband had been in the heat all day and takes 800-milligram prescription-strength ibuprofen for a mouth issue. He mixed his medicine with tumblers of wine that “were filled to the brim with ice” and began acting delirious, she said.

At 7:45 p.m., she said Douglas McLeod was repeating himself and had trouble standing, so she decided to put him to bed.

He was “in a state of delirium” and asked his wife why she wasn’t wearing her wedding rings, Michele McLeod said.

Michele McLeod was taking off her yoga pants when Douglas McLeod called her name. When she turned around, she began to fall. That’s when a limb collided with her nose. At the same time, Douglas McLeod was falling and knocked a side lamp over as he tried to regain his balance, she said.

“I was never assaulted,” she said. “My husband has not hit anyone in the 40 years that I have known him.”

Michele McLeod said she was upset her nose was injured because she “serves in the public” and had to attend her granddaughter’s first communion the next morning.

That’s partly why she was emotional when authorities arrived, she said tearily because she feared seeing her husband “face down on the ground with his hands behind his back.”

Assistant District Attorney Bobby Knochel asked Michele McLeod why she told George County sheriff’s deputy Robert Karg that her husband “snapped” the night of the incident.

“He (Karg) led me outside and I was not properly dressed,” she said. “I didn’t know how many men were outside. You know, I”m modest. All I wanted was to go inside and cover myself.”

What body cam footage shows

Body-camera footage from a responding George County sheriff’s deputy also was shown in court Tuesday.

The footage showed Michele McLeod crying and heaving as Merrill escorted her down the stairs toward Karg minutes after 911 was called.

There was blood down her nose, around her mouth and covering her hands.

“Where is he? Where is he?” she asked Deputy Robert Karg as he walked her outside.

He assured her that her husband was not in the yard or near the deputy’s vehicle.

“He’s drunk,” Michele told Karg as the camera rolled.

Merrill was at the home that night as a guest of Michele McLeod and had planned to attend the granddaughter’s first communion on Sunday.

Merrill testified that Michele McLeod ran into her room with a bloody face, saying her husband, who had been drinking wine for hours, hit her in the face for not undressing quickly enough for sex.

Body-camera footage later captured Michele McLeod telling Karg that her husband gets angry at her when he’s under the influence of alcohol. An example she gave was her working too much.

“Anything can trigger him to get like that,” she told Karg. “He lost it. He gets like that when he drinks too much.”

Michelle McLeod repeated that it was not fear of her husband that upset her, but that people (authorities) were in her house, that her nose was injured, and that she did not have on under-garments.

When asked why she did not tell Karg that she had not been assaulted by her husband, Michele McLeod said “it was a very overwhelming evening.”

The police report

Merrill, Karg and 911 dispatcher Christy O’Brien testified before the lunch break.

Knochel, along with Assistant District Attorney George Huffman, focused on the 911 calls by Merrill and Karg’s body camera footage.

Merrill had locked the bedroom door and blocked it with her body, refusing to let Michele McLeod out to wash her face until authorities arrived.

When O’Brien made a third contact with Merrill, asking Merrill to go downstairs to meet Karg at the door, Michele McLeod can be heard on tape with Merrill. Both would not come down because Douglas McLeod was beating on the door.

Douglas McLeod opened the door for Karg and said “Are you kidding me?” when Karg told him why he was there. After walking back inside the house, McLeod returned outside and said, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry, man.”

Karg said McLeod was drinking out of a glass that smelled like “wine or alcohol.”

Dobbins focused on the three police reports produced in the case. While on the stand, Karg testified that Michele McLeod told him she was hit because she was not undressing fast enough for sex, mirroring what Merrill testified to earlier in the morning.

Dobbins, however, questioned if Karg was mixing up details because the explanation about undressing for sex was not in the deputy’s report that the defense attorney referenced in court. Karg testified his body camera was turned off when he did additional interviews with Michele McLeod about the incident.

In another police report obtained by the Sun Herald after the incident, the report says it was Merrill that said Michele McLeod was hit because she was undressing too slowly.

Michele McLeod said she never told anyone she was hit because of undressing for sex. She said she is a private person and had never discussed her sex life with Merrill.

The verdict

In closing arguments, Dobbins urged Bullock to find Douglas McLeod not guilty, saying that Michele McLeod and his client were the only two who knew what happened in their bedroom that night.

Huffman said it did not make sense that Michele McLeod would leave her room downstairs and pass up the kitchen to go upstairs to ask Merrill to get her ice. He said most of her testimony on the stand was “unreasonable.”

“She’s just trying to protect her husband,” Huffman said. “He punched his wife in the face.”

Bullock said before handing down a verdict that Michele McLeod’s “reaction to people afterward makes me understand a little more ... that Mrs. McLeod was in fear of Mr. McLeod. She was in fear of him.”

He said the decision was tough before handing down the not-guilty verdict.

Clarification: Karg’s report indicated Megan Merrill told him Michele McLeod confirmed she was hit because she was undressing too slowly. Also, while outside the home, Michele McLeod feared seeing her husband “face down on the ground with his hands behind his back” but did not actually see him. An earlier version of this story contained wording that requires clarification.

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