Metro Atlanta attorney charged with murder testifies in his own defense

Metro Atlanta attorney Bryan Keith Schmitt took the stand at his murder trial Thursday, telling a Fulton County jury he never meant to hit Hamid Jahangard with his car.

Credit: Channel 2 Action News

Credit: Channel 2 Action News

Metro Atlanta attorney Bryan Keith Schmitt took the stand at his murder trial Thursday, telling a Fulton County jury he never meant to hit Hamid Jahangard with his car.

Facing a murder charge after driving into a man he believed threw a golf ball at his Mercedes, a metro Atlanta attorney took the stand Thursday in his own defense.

Bryan Keith Schmitt, 51, told a Fulton County jury he never meant to hit Hamid Jahangard as he pulled into a Sandy Springs driveway to question him about possibly damaging his car.

“I see it in my head every day,” an emotional Schmitt told defense attorney Don Samuel. “It’s a mistake that I have struggled with for three years.”

Hamid Jahangard

Credit: H.M. Patterson & Son-Arlington Chapel obituary

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Credit: H.M. Patterson & Son-Arlington Chapel obituary

Schmitt is accused of intentionally ramming Jahangard with his Mercedes on July 30, 2019, outside a home owned by the victim. Jahangard, a 60-year-old father of two, suffered a skull fracture and a broken leg. The real estate developer died in the hospital three days later.

Footage of the fatal wreck was captured on two cameras: one clip from the dashboard of a passing work truck and another from a home’s security camera across the street. The footage appeared to show Schmitt quickly turn left across traffic on River Valley Road, striking Jahangard as he stood next to three trash bins at the edge of the driveway.

Schmitt had driven past Jahangard moments earlier, but turned around and confronted the real estate developer after hearing something hit his car.

“I heard a very loud bang, like a knocking noise on the front of car,” he told the jury. “I realized what had likely happened was he had bounced the ball and it took an odd bounce and hit my car.”

Surveillance footage appeared to show Jahangard bouncing a golf ball off the driveway while speaking on the phone as Schmitt drove by just before 5:30 p.m. The attorney’s 2011 sedan had numerous dings and dents, investigators said, but Schmitt was unable to pinpoint the exact area where the golf ball struck his car.

The two exchanged words before Schmitt decided to pull into the driveway, he said from the stand, and he was surprised by how confrontative Jahangard had been.

“I was shocked. He was very dismissive,” he said. “We were across two lanes of traffic and he yelled across the road, “get the (expletive) out of here. It took me back. I was really surprised.”

With traffic backing up behind him on the busy road, Schmitt said he made the decision to pull into the driveway, speak with Jahangard and “try and understand what had happened.”

“I realized at this point we’re not having effective communication, an effective exchange,” he said. “I realized the best thing to do was to pull into the driveway and sort out what had happened.”

But Schmitt underestimated his car’s turning radius, he said. He hit the curb with his right front tire before colliding with the trashcans and ultimately the victim. Surveillance footage appeared to show the attorney apply his brakes just before the collision.

Video also showed Schmitt quickly hopping out of his car and trying to help the injured Jahangard, who was bleeding from his ears after the fatal head injury. Schmitt, who received medical training during his time in the U.S. Army, said he placed Jahangard on his back and stabilized his head as he waited for help to arrive.

“It was like auto-pilot at that point. My training in first aid took over,” Schmitt said. “I could see the blood coming from his head.”

On cross-examination, prosecutor Pat Dutcher honed in on erroneous statements Schmitt made to bystanders and first responders at the scene. Schmitt initially told investigators Jahangard had thrown one of the trashcans in front of his car and that he swerved to avoid it.

The prosecutor played a police officer’s body camera footage to the jury to drive home the point.

“As I started to turn in, he pushed a trash can right in front of my car,” Schmitt told the officer at the scene that evening, making a pushing motion.

Dutcher then got Schmitt to admit that’s not what actually happened.

“My memory of that evening is very jumbled,” Schmitt said, adding that was his perception of events at the time. “I know now that did not happen.”

He was asked about his decision to turn around and question Jahangard rather than calling the police and letting them handle it. Schmitt said he had been involved in previous accidents “where we were able to resolve the situation on our own.”

Schmitt told Dutcher what happened that afternoon was a “tragic accident,” a mistake he wishes he had never made.

“Are you telling this jury you bear responsibility for this man’s death?” Dutcher asked.

“It’s a responsibility I will bear for the rest of my life,” Schmitt replied, noting he’s “beaten himself up” for the past three years. “I never intended to hurt anyone, sir. I was trying to deescalate the situation.”

Schmitt was allowed to leave the scene in his car that night. But Sandy Springs investigators later came to his townhome in search of Jahangard’s cellphone, which his daughter had tracked to an address about two miles from the crash. The phone was found underneath Schmitt’s driver side windshield wiper. Schmitt had no idea it was there, he said.

Schmitt, who works as in-house counsel for a software development company, is charged with murder, two counts of felony murder and two counts of aggravated assault. Before his arrest in this case, he had never received so much as a traffic ticket, he told Samuel, his attorney.

Samuel, a prominent Atlanta defense lawyer, was Schmitt’s criminal law professor at Georgia State University. The defense called several character witnesses Thursday afternoon who testified Schmitt was a level-headed and trustworthy person. The trial is expected to resume Friday.