NEW PORT RICHEY — Shawn Evans wanted to tell his story unencumbered and without the annoyance of a lawyer's questions.
He'd waited a long time for the chance, in fact, more than 300 days — all of them spent in the Pasco County jail.
The state offered him an out, a sentence of time served, for showing up at a kindly neighbor's house and refusing to leave. But no, he wanted his day in court.
On a recent Tuesday, he wore a suit provided by the Public Defender's Office and headphones to aid his hearing. He was neatly shaved, a far cry from his rough-looking mug shot. Arrest reports list him as homeless. One deputy had noted in a report that he'd had "extensive history" with Evans, and by extension, the houses on Cardoon Drive.
In November of 2012, Evans was arrested on charges of trespassing, resisting arrest without violence and battery on a law enforcement officer.
The trial was set to last one day. The state called the deputies involved and the owner of the house as witnesses.
Finally, it was Evans' turn, but he was frustrated. Why couldn't he just talk? Why, he asked, did he have to be questioned? It wasn't fair, he said.
So, Circuit Judge Mary Handsel told him:
"If you think you're just going to stand at the witness stand and just talk for 30 minutes and nobody's going to stop you, you're wrong."
"That I don't agree with ma'am," he said.
"Okay, well, that's great you don't believe in it. It's the legal system. You're in it. We all went to law school, the five of us," she said as she pointed lawyers in the room. "And we spent three years of our lives, 24/7, learning a whole bunch of rules that we have to follow."
"Oh, I understand that," he said and trailed off.
"I may not like the rules," she said, "but I still have to follow them."
"True, true," he said. "I just want to make sure I know the rules that are legal within my knowledge of what is available legally."
"Okay, I just told you," she said, "and you didn't like the answer."
• • •
It started with cold soup.
The way Timothy Miller told it from the witness stand, he and Evans were friends. On that November evening, Evans asked to use Miller's microwave to heat his food up. Okay, Miller told him, but then you have to leave. Then, Evans wanted to use the computer. Feeling groggy from the sleeping pills he'd taken, Miller went to bed.
The next morning, Evans was still there. Miller, a soft-spoken man with a drawl and a long and neat white beard off his chin, made Evans some coffee. They talked about the Bible.
"When I'm discussing the word of God," Miller testified, "when the discussion turns into an argument I ask him to leave."
Things escalated, and Evans still wouldn't leave, even after Miller asked him "six or seven times." Miller called a deputy but hung up when Evans told him to "sit down and shut up."
A deputy showed up. Evans met him on the front yard and according to the deputy's testimony, Evans said he wasn't afraid of being arrested and waved a thick plastic cup around.
After some yelling, pushing and shoving, Evans went to jail.
• • •
"I won't testify," Evans told the judge.
"You won't?" she asked.
"I will not," he said.
The jury deliberated for 54 minutes before finding Evans guilty of resisting arrest and trespassing, but not of battery. A bailiff cuffed Evans' hands in front of him.
Handsel sentenced Evans to six months of probation and ordered him not to have contact with Miller.
"Mr. Evans, I realize you insisted on having your trial. I'm not sure the determination was different than what you would have had months ago," Handsel said. "You didn't have to stay in jail. Whatever you were trying to accomplish with a jury trial, I'm not sure if you accomplished it."