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By the time Shannon Bigelow's trial neared its end Monday, the jury already knew he threw punches that broke Lincoln Police Officer Eric Messersmith's nose and left him unable to see from his right eye for an hour.

Neither Bigelow, nor his public defender, disputed that.

Rather, the question was whether he was voluntarily intoxicated at the time because he had taken methamphetamine, or involuntarily intoxicated by the medications hospital staff gave him to bring him down.

If the meth was to blame, Bigelow would be guilty of first-degree assault on a peace officer. If it was the meds, jurors could find him not guilty.

It all started July 7, 2016, at about 7:30 a.m., when Messersmith was working off-duty in uniform at the CHI St. Elizabeth Regional Medical Center emergency room.

Bigelow had been brought to the ER after acting erratically — he'd used meth the night before — and he wouldn't stay in his room.

When he walked behind the nurses station, Messersmith followed and told him to leave. Then Bigelow started punching, Deputy Lancaster County Attorney Jessica Murphy said.

At trial, witnesses described seeing Bigelow throw a dozen or more punches and knee strikes to the officer's head — and Messersmith fighting to keep his gun out of Bigelow's hands — before Bigelow ran from the emergency room in his boxer shorts.

Police found him and arrested him soon after.

"If there was a substance that affected his behavior, it was methamphetamine," Murphy said in closing arguments Monday in Lancaster County District Court.

But Bigelow also had been given Haldol, Ativan and Benadryl. Dr. Klaus Hartmann, a longtime Lincoln psychiatrist called as an expert by the defense, said in his opinion, the medication interfered with Bigelow's mental abilities to the extent that he didn't know what he was doing. 

Chief Deputy Public Defender Bob Hays said the doctor compared it to excessive alcohol use.

Bigelow testified that he remembered feeling paranoid that morning, seeing people outside his window, hearing voices telling him where to go, feeling like he kept coming to dead ends.

"Did the methamphetamine cause him to behave in a bizarre manner? Yes, that's why he was brought in," Hays said.

But, he argued, the three medications Bigelow had been given were an intervening factor that caused him to lose control. They were supposed to knock him out, Hays said, but they didn't.

He said the officer certainly didn't deserve what happened to him, but Bigelow, who has a history of mental illness, didn't intend to do it.

Murphy's co-counsel, Deputy Lancaster County Attorney Janice Lipovsky, got the last word, telling the jury to disregard Hartmann's opinion, which she said he had reached without getting all the facts.

"How did that methamphetamine get into his system?" she asked. "He took it voluntarily."

Jurors deliberated until 9:30 p.m. Monday before returning with a guilty verdict. Bigelow is set to be sentenced next month.

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7237 or

On Twitter @LJSpilger.


Lori Pilger is a public safety reporter.

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