KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A jury on Thursday found two former Schlitterbahn employees not guilty of lying to investigators in the 2016 death of a 10-year-old boy on the Verruckt water slide.
The case against David Hughes and John Zalsman was the first one involving current and former Schlitterbahn employees after the investigation into Caleb Schwab's death.
The two men were accused of lying to investigators about a brake mat that allegedly came off the water slide before Schwab’s tragic death at the water park.
Following the decision, unaffiliated defense attorney John Picerno said the jury’s verdict served as a big win for the defense.
“The big picture of things here today is definitely a setback for the government,” he said. “They’ve had an independent review by citizens of Wyandotte County telling the government that we don’t believe your evidence.”
Picerno speculated that the defense’s portrayal of the two men as blue-collar maintenance workers likely hit home with the jury.
“The big thing for the government to overcome was what was the motivation for these two individuals to fabricate anything?” he said. “They’re not benefiting.”
Picerno added that the decision on Thursday impacted a possible advantage for the prosecution moving forward.
“The government always likes to start small and then move their way up the food chain,” he said. “If they had gotten a conviction here and these guys were looking at jail time, they could’ve said, ‘We’ll agree to probation. You testify against your bosses or former bosses.’”
With the designer of Verruckt, the co-owner of Schlitterbahn, and a former manager of the park all facing possible trials, Picerno told 41 Action News that the prosecutors were likely focusing on the strength of their evidence for the cases after the decision on Thursday.
“These people did not believe that particular evidence,” he explained. “If they’re not relying on that evidence and they have separate evidence, then you’re basically starting from scratch.”
The three remaining people facing charges after the Schlitterbahn tragedy will be back in court in December.