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Post-Standard, The (Syracuse, NY)

March 2, 2001

DEFENDANT CALLS AX A SYMBOL, NOT A THREAT MAN WHO WAS SHOT BY POLICE SAYS HE WANTED TO DRAW ATTENTION TO HOUSE NEXT DOOR.


Frederick Jennis testified Thursday he walked toward two armed city police officers clutching an ax in his hand as a "symbol of justice" and was stunned when he ended up being shot twice.

 "I never wanted to hurt anybody that day," Jennis said as he told his story to an Onondaga County Court jury for about 2 1/2  hours.
        
That jury was to hear closing arguments today from Assistant District Attorney James Cecile and defense lawyer Paul Carey and legal instructions from Judge Joseph Fahey before beginning to deliberate on whether Jennis is guilty of any criminal wrongdoing in the incident outside his home June 23. He is charged with five felonies, including attempted aggravated assault upon a police officer, and two misdemeanors.

 Jennis, 41, of 104 Mooney Ave., admitted in court Thursday that he broke into the house next door to his residence, cut off the utilities, boarded up the doors, posted handmade condemnation signs and told the residents they could not go back inside.

 But he repeatedly maintained his actions were a protest stemming from decades of frustration about not getting police and city officials to deal with what he said were drug dealers and other lawbreakers living in the neighboring residence.

 "I remember the whole day quite vividly," he said, noting he had begun planning his attack on the house next door about a month earlier. He said he carried it out June 23 because it was a Friday and the three-month anniversary of his father's death.

 Jennis detailed how he broke into the house by using a sledgehammer to get through a locked side door. He then told how he shut off the electricity, gas and water and took the utility meters to his garage.

 Then he waited at his house for the neighbors to come home.

 Jennis said he heard police arrive and he headed out his back door to meet them. He said he carried the ax as a symbol of justice based on a dream he had a decade ago.

 "It's the spiritual gift I was given. I don't look at it as an item or a weapon or anything," he said.

 He said he realized someone else might not see the ax in as benevolent a fashion as he did, and kept it lowered at his side as he began walking toward Officers Duane Rood and Jacquelyn Phinney in his driveway.

 Why, Carey asked, didn't Jennis drop the ax when the officers drew their guns and began yelling at him to drop the weapon?

 "That day I was trying to stand up for justice," Jennis replied. "I thought if I don't raise the ax, how can anybody interpret it as a threat?"

 Jennis said his goal had been to get the police to respond so he could try to persuade them to do something about the house next door. Yet he admitted he never said a word as he walked toward the officers because he thought it was up to them to initiate conversation.

 Jennis denied ever raising the ax before he was shot.

 "I saw the muzzle flash and I heard the big boom," he said. That first shot struck him in the upper right leg, whipped him around and knocked him flat on the ground, he testified. Jennis said he stood and picked up the ax again because something "just kicked me in the butt" and told him to stand up for what he thought was right.

 He said he raised the ax to about chest height before dropping it back to his side. That was when he was shot a second time, in the lower abdomen, he testified.

 "I was surprised," he said.

 "I never wanted to hurt anybody that day. It was all about the house," he said.

 After the lengthy direct examination during which Jennis told his story, Cecile mounted a five-minute cross-examination. He got Jennis to admit he had no permission to enter the house next door, that doing so was a crime, that damaging property inside the house was a crime, and that he had no permission to take or possess the utility meters.

 "I was standing up for my rights. That's what this whole incident is about," Jennis testified in explaining why he believed he was justified in issuing his own condemnation of the neighboring residence.

Copyright (c) 2001 The Herald Company

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