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Gen. Mattis, Trump’s possible defense chief, fulfills Benton County jury duty

In this 2012 photo, Gen. James Mattis, commander of the U.S. Central Command in Tampa, Fla., greets veterans prior to the Time of Remembrance ceremony at Flat Top Park in West Richland.
In this 2012 photo, Gen. James Mattis, commander of the U.S. Central Command in Tampa, Fla., greets veterans prior to the Time of Remembrance ceremony at Flat Top Park in West Richland. Tri-City Herald file

Retired Marine Gen. James Mattis, under consideration by President-elect Donald Trump for a Cabinet position, still found time to appear in a Kennewick courtroom for jury duty this week.

Mattis has a Richland residence and is registered to vote in Washington.

He was sent a summons to appear Monday in Benton County District Court, and was one of six jurors seated on a gross misdemeanor trial.

Tuesday, after deliberating for less than 10 minutes, the panel returned with an innocent verdict for Wendy D. Garcia on one count of false reporting.

“It was unbelievable,” Richland attorney Scott Johnson said about having Mattis on his jury. “For a District Court case, it was quite interesting.”

A woman who answered the phone at Mattis’ home Tuesday afternoon said, “He’s awfully busy.”

Mattis, 66, was born in Pullman and raised in Richland. He graduated from Columbia High School in 1968.

He went on to lead Marines into Kuwait during the Persian Gulf War in 1990-91, Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003.

He was the head of U.S. Central Command — overseeing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — when he ended his 41-year military career in 2013.

After retirement, Mattis joined the Hoover Institution, a public policy think tank at Stanford University in California.

And now, Mattis has been named a top contender to serve as Trump’s secretary of Defense. The two met for an hour Saturday in Bedminster, N.J.

Johnson was amazed to see the military leader known as “Mad Dog” in his client’s jury pool just two days later, he said.

Johnson said he told the general it was an honor to have him on the jury panel.

Mattis thanked Johnson and said he’d just prefer to be treated as a private citizen while on the jury.

“He couldn’t have been nicer. He was just real unassuming,” Johnson said.

Garcia was accused of lying to Kennewick police about who was driving when her vehicle was rear-ended.

Garcia had said she was behind the wheel, then switched seats with her husband so he could pursue the other driver, who took off. Witnesses who saw the ensuing chase on Canal Drive reported that a man was driving.

Police believed the witnesses and pursued the false reporting charge against Garcia, even though no one saw the actual collision. Johnson said there was no evidence that Garcia wasn’t driving at that point, and she was acquitted.

Mattis was not the jury foreman. He stayed after the verdict with his fellow jurors to talk about the case with Johnson, Assistant City Attorney Oliver T. Beatty and Judge Steve Osborne.

Kristin M. Kraemer: 509-582-1531, @KristinMKraemer

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