HOUSTON A jury will begin hearing testimony Wednesday in the case of a Bellaire police sergeant facing aggravated assault charges in connection with the shooting of an aspiring baseball player in his own driveway.
Sgt. Jeffrey Cotton, who is white, shot Robbie Tolan, who is black, in the early morning hours of New Year s Eve 2008.
Cotton mistakenly thought Tolan was driving a stolen vehicle.
In an interview with Tolan in February of 2009, the son of former major leaguer Bobby Tolan claimed he was shot because he was black.
Do you believe this was racially motivated? 11 News asked Tolan. Of course, he replied.
You believe you were racially profiled? we asked.
Yes, Tolan replied.
If you were white would you be in this position today? we asked.
No, Tolan replied.
Cotton maintains his innocence. He said he did nothing wrong. During a news conference in April of 2009, Cotton said he prayed for Tolan after he shot him.
It s very hard to describe what it s like to have to do that and then not wanting to do it. You had no choice, but you have to do it, said Sgt. Cotton.
The shooting sparked allegations of a systemic problem of racial profiling in Bellaire.
Bellaire resident Jamie House, who is African-American, is part of a group that formed right after the shooting. He said many eyes will be on the courthouse.
Clearly there are some issues, he said. Everybody in the community will be tracking it and seeing what s going on. There is a lot of strong interest on all sides in Bellaire about the incident.
The majority of jurors chosen Tuesday are white. There are two African Americans on the jury.
11 News Legal Expert Gerald Treece says the process of jury selection, or voir dire, is key in this case.
It s very explosive and people have polarized views on it, but voir dire is a good way to get prejudices out of the way and get jurors that haven t made up their minds on guilt and innocence, said Treece.
If convicted of the charge of aggravated assault by a public servant, Cotton could face five to 99 years in prison. He would also be eligible for probation.
Cotton is on administrative leave from the Bellaire Police Department. He hopes to return to work after the trial.