SMALKOWSKI FOUND NOT GUILTY ON ALL COUNTS
Web Posted: June 26, 2006 hester (Chuck) Smalkowski, a member of American Atheists living in Hardesty, Oklahoma, has been found Not Guilty on all counts by a twelve person jury in Guymon, Texas County, Oklahoma.
Chuck, together with his family, is featured on the cover of the current issue of American Atheist Magazine. At the 2006 Annual Convention, the Smalkowski Family was presented the American Atheists Award for Valor, now prominently displayed on the wall of their home.
The Smalkowski case attracted national attention after Nicole Smalkowski was kicked off of the girls' basketball team after refusing to stand in a circle with her teammates on the gymnasium floor of the Hardesty public High School and recite the "Lord's Prayer." After school officials learned that she and her family were Atheists, lies were created about her as grounds to take her off of the team.
When her father Chuck discovered conclusively that public school and law enforcement officials had lied to him about his 15 year old daughter, he and Nicole and her mother Nadia went to the home of principal Lloyd Buckley to attempt to discuss the matter with him. Outside of his front fence, the principal struck Chuck, who blocked the blow. Both men fell to the ground and Buckley sustained minor injuries, the provable origins of which were strikingly contrary to his under oath trial testimony. Buckley then took out misdemeanor criminal assault charges against Chuck. After Smalkowski rejected the offer to drop the charges if he and his Atheist family left the state, the charges were raised to a felony. Chuck called American Atheists for help.
On June 22, 2006, after only a little over two and a half hours of deliberation, a span of time that included dinner, the jury found Chuck "Not Guilty" of the felony charge of assault and of two lesser included misdemeanor assault charges.
Edwin Kagin, National Legal Director for American Atheists and his wife Helen drove from Kentucky to Guymon, Oklahoma for the five day trial. Edwin had become registered as an attorney in Oklahoma for the purpose of assisting Tim Gungoll, Chuck's attorney from Enid, Oklahoma. Mr. Kagin conducted the voir dire of the prospective jury, gave the opening and closing statements in the case, cross examined the Superintendent of the Hardesty public schools, David Davidson, and conducted the direct examination of the defendant Chuck Smalkowski. Tim cross examined the other prosecution witnesses and conducted the direct examination of Nicole and Nadia Smalkowski.
The Atheist and Christian attorneys worked together effectively for the cause of justice and to vindicate an Atheist falsely accused.
The true significance of this trial is that this is the first case we know of in American jurisprudence where Atheism has been directly used in as a defense in a criminal trial.
Edwin introduced himself to the jury as National Legal Director for American Atheists and asked the prospective jury in the Oklahoma panhandle if they could accept the testimony of an Atheist over that of a professed Christian. When the jury looked at him blankly, the judge asked the prospects if they understood the question. One woman spoke for many in the group by asking "What is an Atheist?" Edwin explained that an Atheist was a person who did not believe in a god or gods or in a supernatural world, and that the defendant and his entire family were such persons. Many of the prospects said they could not believe such a person over a Christian and were struck for cause. To their credit, many members of the jury panel, including two ministers' wives, told the judge they could not be fair to an Atheist in such a situation and were excused.
Edwin also told the prospective jurors that his co-counsel Tim Gungoll believed Jesus Christ to be his personal savior and that Tim was a practicing Roman Catholic who asked if the jury might feel him a hypocrite to his faith for defending Chuck. Ultimately a jury of twelve was seated who had sworn that they could believe the testimony of an Atheist over that of a Christian.
In closing argument, Edwin told the jury that it really should not be necessary for an Atheist to tell them it is wrong to lie under oath, as he reminded them the Christian school officials and the police had done in their sworn trial testimony. "Thou shall not bare false witness against thy neighbor. Ninth Commandment. Eight if you are Roman Catholic," Kagin said.
The jury believed the Atheists. Unanimously.
The night of the verdict, tornados of unusual violence descended on the panhandle of Oklahoma. The home of the Principal who had brought the false charges against Chuck Smalkowski was severely damaged.
This fact has no relationship whatsoever to the verdict.
A civil lawsuit in Federal Court, with the Smalkowski Family and American Atheists as Plaintiffs, is contemplated.