A Virginia judge has refused to set aside a bizarre and contradictory finding by a jury in Loudon County, and an armed citizen who was found to be acting in self-defense when he shot a YouTube “prankster” personality who was threatening him at a local mall is still behind bars as a result.
While the jury acquitted Alan Colie on a charge of aggravated malicious wounding last month, jurors also found Colie guilty of unlawfully firing a gun in an occupied building. That’s a felony with a potential five-year prison sentence in Virginia, but it’s also an inexplicable decision on the part of jurors. If Colie was acting in lawful self-defense when he shot Tanner Cook, then how was the discharge of a firearm unlawful?
After the jury’s original verdict was returned, Colie’s defense attorney asked the judge to strike the charge, but at a hearing late last week the judge refused to do so, meaning that Colie will remain in jail until his sentencing on December 21st.
In court Thursday, Colie’s defense team argued the jury’s verdict indicates it thought the shooting was self-defense — that if Colie’s shooting was justified, then firing the shot itself could not have been unlawful.
The Commonwealth’s Attorney argued that contradictory verdicts are allowed in Virginia and it’s not the court’s role to infer what the jury was thinking when it handed down its verdict.
The judge agreed with the Commonwealth and denied the motions. The judge also denied bond for Colie. As of now, his next court appearance is in December for his sentencing.
His grandmother, Elfriede Colie, is sad that her grandson will remain in jail.
“I hope when he does come out. He’s going to be a better person. A better person. And when something like this comes again, just keep walking away, don’t let it get to you,” Colie said, “He came into the mall to do an honest job, to make a dollar. No trouble. And the trouble found him.”
Though the jury acquitted Colie of aggravated malicious wounding, prosecutors argued that doesn’t mean they found he acted in self-defense and the judge agreed, even though it sounds like neither the judge nor the commonwealth’s attorney could offer another explanation for his acquittal.
Snow also denied another motion to overturn the verdict because of a jury instruction. Defense attorney Adam Pouilliard said it was not simple, clear, and concise enough, which could’ve led the jury to make an “erroneous decision based on the understanding of the law.”
During the trial, Pouilliard argued Colie was acting in self-defense when he pulled out a gun from his pocket to shoot Cook in the stomach area. Colie had just picked up food from the food court in April when Cook, alongside a friend, put a phone near his face to play an explicit message as part of a prank recording for his YouTube channel Classified Goons.
The footage of the 20-second interaction was a key piece of evidence for the jury to consider.
When he testified, Colie described feeling confused by the phrase Cook was playing on his phone. Colie told the jury the two looked “really cold and angry.” He also acknowledged carrying a gun during work as a way to protect himself after seeing reports of other delivery service drivers being robbed.
“Colie walked into the mall to do his job with no intention of interacting with Tanner Cook. None,” Adam Pouilliard, Colie’s defense attorney, said. “He’s sitting next to his defense attorneys right now. How’s that for a consequence?”
The Commonwealth argued that Cook was never armed, never placed hands on Colie and never posed a threat. They stressed that just because Cook may not seem like a saint or his occupation makes him appear undesirable, that a conviction is warranted.
“We don’t like our personal space invaded, but that does not justify the ability to shoot someone in a public space during an interaction that lasted for only 20 seconds,” Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Eden Holmes said.
Seems to me that the jury believed Colie had a reasonable fear for his life after being accosted by a much bigger stranger and his sidekick, but still had qualms about his carrying a gun and discharging it in a mall food court, which is why they settled on their split decision. That may be allowed under Virginia law, but speaking as a resident of the Commonwealth, I’d love to see legislators rectify that in the upcoming session.
Colie has been behind bars since his arrest in April, and it looks like the earliest he could be released would be December 21st at his sentencing hearing. The charge of unlawful discharge of a firearm in an occupied building is punishable by six months to five years in prison, so it’s possible that the judge will sentence him to time served. There’s also a possibility, however, that Colie will ring in the new year in a state prison thanks to a jury’s bizarre decision and the state’s allowance for contradictory verdicts.
While lawmakers should be getting to work drafting “Alan’s Law” to prohibit those contradictory verdicts, it might be time for gun owners, Second Amendment advocates, and criminal justice reformers to start lobbying Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s office for a pardon to clear Colie’s name. I doubt anything will be done before the state’s upcoming elections take place in early November, but the governor can and should give Colie the gift of freedom as an early Christmas present… and in the interest of justice in the Old Dominion.