LONGVIEW — At the conclusion of a Jan. 27 trial in Cowlitz District Court, a jury of five men and one woman found Longview School Board member and former state rep. Justin “JD” Rossetti “not guilty” of fourth-degree domestic violence assault and third-degree malicious mischief.
The day-long trial included emotional testimony from Rossetti and his estranged wife, Amber Rosewood, as well as testimony from a police detective who said Rossetti lied in an interview. Jurors also heard a recording in which Rossetti asked his wife, “What would you like me to break first?”
Rosewood’s supporters looked stunned as Rossetti and his attorney Joe Daggy said they were asking Rosewood for about $4,000 in legal fees. After that announcement, one of Rossetti’s former colleagues delivered a scorching speech to him and his father before leaving the courtroom. Rosetti asked to make a statement to the media, and then gave a five-minute-long religious testimony. He thanked God for being on his side during the trial and compared himself to Jesus.
“I believe that our lord Jesus Christ is an awesome God. I am humbled and honored to have to be falsely accused, as he was falsely accused,” Rossetti said.
Longview city prosecutor Steve Shuman filed the charges in November, following a Longview Police investigation of an Aug. 17, 2016 fight the couple had at their home.
Rosewood alleges that Rossetti wrested away a baseball bat she swung at him in self-defense, pinned her to the floor, and smashed a chandelier and a door. That incident prompted Rosewood to leave Rossetti and file for divorce. On Nov. 14, she won a protection order against him in a separate court hearing.
In court on Jan. 27, Rossetti, now a lobbyist for the Longview-based Association of Western Pulp and Paper Workers, denied Rosewood’s allegations. His testimony differed from statements he made in emails to Rosewood, in his interview with the detective, and at his protection-order hearing. In 2016, Rossetti described himself in emails and letters to Rosewood and her family members as “controlling and intimidating” and “destructive and abusive.” But in court on Jan. 27, he accused Rosewood of abusing him. Rossetti said he was defending himself against Rosewood’s attack on Aug. 17.
The Jan. 27 trial focused on a very specific goal: determining if Rossetti’s behavior on Aug. 17 met the legal standards for assault and malicious mischief. To do that, Shuman had to prove Rossetti intentionally tried to hurt Rosewood and damage their property that night.
Rossetti described using “power, control, manipulation and intimidation” against Rosewood in a letter that he wrote to her mother after their separation.
“I caused our home to be a place that was scary, insecure, and hateful, harmful, and painful,” Rossetti wrote. The emails helped convince a judge to give Rosewood the November protection order, but they played a relatively limited role in the January trial, because they didn’t specifically address her allegations about Aug. 17.
The main evidence in the trial was a recording Rosewood made secretly during the fight. Rosewood called 911 on that night but changed her mind about reporting the alleged assault by the time police arrived, partly because she said she feared she could be punished for using the bat, and for making verbal threats to Rossetti. There were no photos, detailed police reports or other physical evidence from immediately after the fight, because she did not make the police report until two months later.
By August, Rosewood said she and her husband were sleeping in separate rooms and she was afraid of him.
“I had rearranged the furniture so that I could not easily be pushed out of the windows,” Rosewood told the court. She spoke clearly, but her hands trembled while she was on the stand.
She explained why she hit the “record” button on her cell phone as he climbed the stairs at about 10 p.m. that night.
“I did it because things had been getting so bad that I was afraid he might kill me. If he did, I wanted to have proof.”
In the first moments of the recording, Rossetti spoke in a flat, detached tone, as he goaded her to call the police. Rosewood asked Rossetti to leave her room, but he refused to leave, or let her leave.
“No. I will be in here, and every other room that you’re in, until you leave. Or at least until you print out divorce paperwork, sign ‘em, and I sign ‘em,” he told her. For about five minutes, Rosewood continued calmly asking Rossetti to leave, even telling him, “I don’t enjoy that my husband is making me feel fear for my life.” He continued to taunt her.
“Pushing those buttons makes me angry. And so there’s nothing else I can do tonight, but make your life miserable,” Rossetti told her. “… I get way more satisfaction out of this.”
A minute later, Rossetti can be heard saying “Oh, look. Keys, wallet, purse. Ahhh s---.” He begins to laugh, and suddenly the recording erupts into a cacophony of crashing and crunching noises, and Rosewood lets out a blood-curdling scream.
After that, Rosewood suddenly began screaming expletives at Rossetti.
“You get …away from me, Justin. I’ve had enough of your s---. I want to f------ kill you,” a panting Rosewood sobbed. “I want to kill you, you’ve hurt me so much. You abusive f----- prick. Get away from me now.”
Rosewood said that Rossetti had “rushed” at her, and she swung the bat at him in an act of desperation.
“I knew that I couldn’t get out. It’s such a small room. And if he had the keys, that means he had no intention of letting me leave,” Rosewood explained.
In her version of events, Rossetti shoved her into a wall. They went to the ground, and she wrapped her body around the bat and clung to it, as Rossetti pinned her with his knees, shoved the bat into her side, then tried to pull it away. The fight moved into another room, where Rossetti smashed the panes in a French door and a chandelier, before Rosewood fled to her car and called 911.
On the stand, Rossetti said, “That did not happen at all.” In his version of events, he was “surprised and startled” to see Rosewood charging at him with the bat as he left the room.
“I am definitely embarrassed to say, I thought she was coming to give me a hug and say, ‘I’m sorry.’ That’s not what I saw. She was swinging a baseball bat,” Rossetti said.
According to Rossetti, he only tried to “neutralize” the situation.
“I was not trying to get the bat away from her. I was just trying to keep the bat on the ground so she couldn’t take it,” Rossetti said. “I was trying to get away safely at that time, and I was still startled and scared.”
In a Sept. 7 email to Rosewood, Rossetti wrote, “I admit, take full responsibility for, and apologize for the violent, aggressive, and especially intimidating actions of all the horrible events I have caused, including the event where I punched the wall beside you, the event where I smashed the mirror with the ironing board while you were inside the closet, for the times I took away or hindered you from your phone, keys and other possessions, for following you around the home demanding you to leave, and for slamming the car door on you.”
At the November protection order hearing, an attorney asked Rossetti about punching the wall. He answered, “I was asking her to calm down and I wasn’t getting any response. I think there was tension between us, and I punched a wall.” On Jan. 27, he answered the same question by saying, “She was yelling and crying hysterically. … I came up close to her, I asked what I could do. She slapped me. I turned around and slapped a wall.”
He also blamed Rosewood for other events that he apologized for in the Sept. 7 email. Regarding the closet incident, he said, “She began punching me in the chest. I grabbed an ironing board to protect myself. She backed into the closet. I tossed an ironing board and it accidentally hit the mirror and shattered it.”
“She started it,” Rosetti said, referring to the car incident. “She slammed a car door in my face. I put my hands up to block it and as I did that, it bounced back into her leg.”
During a police interview about the Aug. 17 fight, “He denied that any of it happened whatsoever. He said he wasn’t even there that night,” Longview Detective Branden McNew said. McNew described how, after Rossetti insisted that he didn’t remember anything, he acted out the fight in an attempt to jog Rossetti’s memory. According to McNew, Rossetti looked “shocked” and dramatically changed his story when the detective told him there was a recording.
“Until I presented him with physical evidence, he just sat there and stared at me and lied to me,” McNew said. “From denial to a completely different version when confronted with evidence.”
In his closing statement, Daggy emphasized Rosewood’s inconsistencies and verbal threats, saying she had “emotional problems.”
“Once the detective leveled with Mr. Rossetti, Mr.Rossetti leveled with the detective,” Daggy said. “It’s self-defense if you believe you’ve been attacked or you have been endangered.”
Shuman, the prosecutor, pointed out that the fight was so “traumatic” Rosewood called 911 and moved out of her home. He said he believed her.
“When she didn’t remember details, she didn’t make them up. And she didn’t make a saint of herself. She freely admitted her own shortcomings,” Shuman said. “The situation had gotten to the point where she needed something like a bat in her room for protection.”
The jury deliberated for about an hour before delivering their verdict. Most observers quickly left, but Rossetti’s former colleague from the United Way of Cowlitz and Wahkiakum Counties stayed long enough to deliver a parting shot.
“You should be ashamed of yourself…” Kalei LeFave told him. “… No matter what six people say about you, at the end of the day you cannot possibly live with yourself.”