by WES FERGUSON
The story so far
Machine shop owner Gordon Sassman has looked after Uhland for 22 years as a community leader and a town alderman. But others consider him a neighborhood bully. Strife between Sassman and his neighbors boiled over in March last year over regrading of a gravel road called Seeliger Drive. Gordon Sassman wasn’t going to take it anymore.
Read ‘Sassman’s Last Stand’ from March 2011 here.
Ayala never disputed uttering the words that landed him on trial Tuesday morning in Caldwell County’s 119-year-old courthouse. Though he was eventually found not guilty of making a terroristic threat, his attorney and Caldwell County prosecutors spent the better part of the morning parsing the intent of one sentence:
“Your days are numbered,” Ayala had said, “and I’m prepared to give my life for it.”
Ayala issued the warning to his neighbor Gordon Sassman, a town alderman at the time, during the public comment period of the 2011 meeting. Sassman has feuded with Ayala, once engaged in fisticuffs with him and has reported him to the police repeatedly in recent years.
“He was falsely accusing me of all kinds of things I haven’t done,” Sassman testified Tuesday morning. “He just raved on and on. … With the motions he was making with his hand, he almost hit an alderman in the face. She had to jump back when he said, ‘Mr. Sassman, your days are numbered.’”
After making the threat, Sassman said, Ayala said thank you and stormed out the door of Uhland’s City Hall. Sassman told jurors he believed Ayala had threatened him with violence, and the alderman felt that his life was in danger.
But Ayala’s attorney, Marcos Hernandez of San Marcos, argued that Ayala’s statement should be interpreted from a “biblical” perspective.
“All of our days are numbered,” he told Sassman as the jury panel of five women and two men listened on. “He did not say your number was up, did he?”
What’s more, Hernandez added, Ayala did not mean to threaten Sassman’s life but rather intended to end his political career. If Sassman refused to resign his alderman’s post, then Ayala planned to call the attorney general and other officials in an effort to remove him from office.
“Everything’s been taken out of context,” Ayala testified. “That guy carries all kinds of weapons. I carry zero. He’s the one that’s going to kill me.”
The defense and prosecution also argued whether Sassman had called law enforcement to report that he felt threatened before or after he called this newspaper to discuss the incident. In an unusual move that seemed to enter hearsay as evidence, prosecutors provided jurors with copies of a Hays Free Press article about the episode and waited several minutes while they read it.
Sassman also testified that he did not initiate contact with the newspaper to alert reporters to his dispute with Ayala, which was not an accurate statement.
In the end, the jury deliberated about 20 minutes before dismissing the charges against Ayala. Making a terroristic threat to a public official is a Class A misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in county jail and/or a $4,000 fine.
Ayala, who is disabled, said he was in no condition to threaten his Seeliger Drive neighbor with violence, though he claims Sassman has called the Environmental Protection Agency, fire department, animal control and sheriff’s office to report him for various perceived infractions over the years.
“I wanted to address the abuse of power about Gordon Sassman and the harassment that has been done not only to myself and my kids but my grandkids,” he said.
WES FERGUSON reports for the Hays Free Press where this story was originally published. It is reprinted here through a news partnership between the Free Press and the San Marcos Mercury.Email | Print