WAKEFIELD — Friends and family of John Gardiner have waited 743 days since his death to have their day in court. They will need to wait another nine weeks.
The start of the manslaughter trial in Gardiner’s death was delayed on Tuesday after the defendant, Alexander J. Brown, withdrew from an agreement to waive his right to a jury trial. Brown, 25, of Ashaway, appeared before Superior Court Associate Justice Melanie Wilk Thunberg with his attorney, Louis B. Cappuccio Jr., as he made a request to have the case go before a 12-member jury.
“We recognize that this matter was scheduled to proceed by way of a jury-waived trial. My client would like to exercise his right to a jury trial; we believe that is the way it ought to proceed,” Cappuccio said at the hearing.
Brown was charged with manslaughter and disorderly conducted and pleaded not guilty in March 2018.
Court officials said that Brown cannot again waive his right to a jury trial at this phase of the proceedings.
Dressed in khakis and a plaid collared shirt, Brown said very little and answered all questions during the brief appearance with the same “Yes, your honor,” as his mother looked on. He and Cappuccio declined comment after the hearing.
On the other side of the courtroom, about a dozen friends and family members sat with Gardiner’s mother, Linda Melbourne-Van Dyke. They were dressed in T-shirts with a black and white picture of Gardiner on the front, a show of support for a man they noted would have just celebrated his 51st birthday.
Gardiner, a resident of School Street in Westerly, suffered fatal injuries as a result of “multiple trauma to the head” on the morning of July 30, 2017, after a 2:30 a.m. encounter with Brown at the Main Street Plaza in Westerly. At the time of the incident, several police sources said that video surveillance showed Gardiner brush Brown as the two were between two cars in the parking lot, and then began walking away. Brown turned and struck Gardiner, who immediately fell.
The incident lasted less than 15 seconds, according to police sources.
Melbourne-Van Dyke said she was frustrated with the delays, and others in the group complained that Brown had spent “just one night in jail” after he posted a $20,000 surety bond on Aug. 1, 2017. They also said that since there was other criminal history on his record, the bond should have been greater than the $2,000 that his family would have paid.
In a conversation after the hearing, Melbourne-Van Dyke expressed gratitude for the support she has received from the community and noted that she has heard countless stories about her son, whom friends and business partners described as “always friendly.”
With the latest delay, Melbourne-Van Dyke said that all his supporters can do is wait.
“For us, this has been a really long wait already. We are just trying to be patient in waiting for justice,” she said.
The prosecutor, Assistant Attorney General Mark J. Trovato, said that Brown had twice rejected a plea bargain of a sentence of 20 years, with seven years to serve.
The case will now head to trial with jury selection on Oct. 15. The next pretrial conference is scheduled for Aug. 27.