Dusan Fridl and Hemming Hemmingsen smile thanks to their attorney Patrick McLaughlin. The pair was found not guilty of charges they flew a helicopter that the Florence County Sheriff's Office claimed was controlled by them, at the time, without permission.
FLORENCE, S.C. – Defense attorney Patrick McLaughlin said that since his clients -- Dusan Fridl and Hemming Hemmingsen -- were charged with unlawful entry of an aircraft he has tried to get the state to recognize that no offense had been committed.
A Florence County jury Wednesday, after 45 minutes of deliberation, agreed with him and found the pair not guilty.
“We’ve said the entire time that there really was no crime,” McLaughlin said. “We very affirmatively tried to get the state to acknowledge that and we were just ignored. Luckily, the jury didn’t ignore us.”
McLaughlin said he is proud of Fridl and Hemmingsen for taking this case to trial.
Fridl and Hemmingsen were indicted on felony charges after they took a helicopter up for a maintenance flight last April without permission from the agency in control of the aircraft.
The sheriff's office claimed it controlled the helicopter when the flight occurred on the evening of April 6, 2015. The pilots were also accused of removing wheels from the aircraft.
Major Michael Nunn of the Florence County Sheriff's Office said he and the agency respects the jury's decision.
"The jury system us the cornerstone of freedom and democracy in our country," Nunn said. "It insures that law enforcement is held to the highest standard. In this case the jury must not have felt we achieved that standard."
Solicitor Rick Hoefer represented the state during the trial and that after he presents the evidence to the jury, it is really out of his hands.
“The facts are the facts and the jury gets to listen to them and determine whether a criminal offense has occurred,” Hoefer said. “In this instance we apparently fell short and we weren’t able to prove it beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Both sides of the case argued they had provided enough evidence to prove they were right. During the closing arguments, McLaughlin said it was more about the state not willing to admit they were wrong.
“The state rushed to brand these men as criminals,” McLaughlin said. “Did they admit that mistake? No.”
Hoefer took the floor and argued the sheriff's office did own the helicopter well before the April 6 flight. Hoefer also argued that the pilots were not authorized to fly the aircraft according to Lake City Administrator Shawn Bell.
"The transfer began in February when Lake City knew they could not fund the aircraft," Hoefer said. "Because they had no insurance there was a stand-down order."
Hoefer argued that former Lake City Police Chief Jodi Cooper may have had the ultimate authority over the aircraft, but he was unaware of the flight before the transfer on April 7.
"Chief Cooper said he didn't know anything about a flight on April 6," Hoefer said. "Mr. Fridl thought he owned it (the helicopter), it was his baby."
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