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Archive for Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Judge declares mistrial in Durrell Jones first-degree murder trial

March 16, 2011, 11:30 a.m. Updated March 16, 2011, 5:40 p.m.

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A Douglas County judge declared a mistrial Wednesday morning in the first-degree murder trial of Durrell Jones after jurors were unable to reach a verdict.

“To me there’s just not enough evidence to prove that he’s guilty,” juror Brenda Davis said as she left the judicial building.

After four days of testimony last week, prosecutors said the evidence pointed to Jones, 26, of Kansas City, Kan., shooting and killing Anthony Vital, 28, on Oct. 14, 2006, in rural Lawrence. Prosecutors say Jones wanted to collect on a drug debt.

But Jones’ defense attorney John Kerns argued the state’s key witness, Major C. Edwards Jr., a co-defendant who pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter in the case, was not credible.

Davis said she thought Jones was not guilty and only two jurors in the end believed he was guilty.

“We need more evidence,” she said. “A lot of the jury thinks he is not guilty.”

The jury of 11 women and one man had deliberated for more than 18 hours since it got the case Friday afternoon.

Tuesday afternoon Chief District Judge Robert Fairchild had called the jury into his court room to ask their progress in the case. The presiding juror said at one point members thought they were at a stalemate but they decided to review every piece of submitted evidence and testimony.

“There is movement, and continued deliberation might be helpful,” the presiding juror said Tuesday. “I would say that it would be a disservice to this process if we did not continue.”

Jurors had the option of convicting Jones of premeditated first-degree murder, intentional second-degree murder or finding him not guilty in the case. But they were unable to reach a unanimous verdict.

Family members of both Jones and Vital declined to comment Wednesday morning.

Jones remains in custody awaiting the new trial.

New trial

Prosecutors indicated after Fairchild declared a mistrial they would retry the case.

“We truly appreciate the service of the jurors, and like them, we are disappointed that a verdict was not reached,” Douglas County District Attorney Charles Branson said in a statement. “We will review our presentation and prepare for the new trial.”

A new jury will hear the case. Fairchild scheduled the re-trial for Aug. 8, but he said it could occur sooner depending on his trial docket.

Kerns said the defense was disappointed the jury was unable to reach a verdict in its favor, but he indicated his side would be ready to present their evidence to a second jury.

“I can appreciate the fact that the jury did take this case seriously by the fact that they deliberated for more than 17 hours,” Kerns said. “It showed they focused on the case. They didn’t take their job lightly, and I respect that.”

A mistrial by hung jury in a Douglas County murder case is not uncommon.

In 2008, a jury could not reach a verdict in the first-degree murder and aggravated burglary trial of Allen Dale Smith, a Topeka man who was accused of shooting and killing jeweler David Boose at Boose’s Lecompton-area home. Prosecutors convinced a second jury months later to convict Smith of first-degree murder in the case.

Jones trial evidence

Prosecutors Amy McGowan and David Melton, both chief assistant district attorneys, said evidence, including cell phone records and DNA evidence, corroborated Edwards’ testimony. Edwards said Jones pulled a gun on him and Vital in a car Edwards was driving that night because Jones wanted Vital to pay him for a bottle of PCP Jones had fronted him one month earlier.

Edwards said Jones directed him to keep driving west on Sixth Street out of Lawrence until ordering him to pull over in a rural driveway two miles west of town. Then Edwards said the men bailed out of the car, and Jones shot Vital three times. They left the body there, and Edwards said Jones threatened him. They returned to a party at an apartment on Sixth Street.

Edwards, who prosecutors said would get four years off his sentence for testifying, was arrested days later in Mississippi. He said he had left town because he feared Jones would kill him.

But Kerns had questioned why Edwards, who said he was held at gunpoint in the car, had entered a plea in the case. Edwards said he was remorseful for leading Jones to Vital when he knew Jones had a gun, but Kerns accused Edwards of trying to pin the murder on Jones to get a shorter sentence.

Prosecutors said items at the murder scene contained DNA of both Edwards and Jones. Kerns argued prosecutors could not prove how the items linked to Jones, a Neosporin cap and an unsmoked Moore cigarette, got there. He said Edwards had been driving several people around Lawrence that day and the items could have fallen out of the car.

Davis, a juror in the case, said she thought prosecutors needed to look more at other people Jones and Edwards were around that night. Witnesses said the two men were at a Lawrence party with several known drug dealers.

Davis said she had a problem believing several witnesses in the case.

“They were all on drugs,” she said. “And they would change their story.”

Comments

oneeye_wilbur 3 years, 1 month ago

It wasn't that long ago that the J/W touted Lawrence as a safe place with a low crime rate and anexcellent place for retirees and famiies. Is this crime just something recent? After all, 2006 wasn't that long ago. It is hard to believe that Lawrence just had one crime incident and now is a safe place . Is a jury needed to decide that information?

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Heather Perry 3 years, 1 month ago

I am sure they both played their part in this murder and they should both rot in jail but we will see.............

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ifuonlyknew 3 years, 1 month ago

I truly believe Major is the guilty one.

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somebodynew 3 years, 1 month ago

“They were all on drugs,” she said. “And they would change their story.”

Do you think you are going to find Sunday School teachers at a dope party???? Of course they were all on drugs; according to the prosecution, drugs (or money for drugs) was why the killing happened. And I guess it was a surprized to her that some people don't automatically tell the police the truth the first time???

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tombstone 3 years, 1 month ago

They both are a piece of crap. They both need to rot in jail

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Steve Jacob 3 years, 1 month ago

You have to think the jury had no idea who pulled the trigger, Edwards or Jones. Edwards said he was there, and evidence DNA from trash in the area said Jones was there too.

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igby 3 years, 1 month ago

If Edwards, is not credible on a murder case then why then did former judge Six, allow him to lie in a rape case three years ago, that set a rapist free? This case should and could be appealled?

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ranger73 3 years, 1 month ago

Not necessarily Tony- The jury may have been in agreement of guilty, but as to which degree?

"...Jurors had the option of convicting Jones of premeditated first-degree murder, intentional second-degree murder or finding him not guilty in the case."

That could be the point of contention in the jury. Either way, I suppose double jeopardy isn't a factor for this mistrial, they will reselect a jury and retry the case I would guess.

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Amy Heeter 3 years, 1 month ago

Maybe in another five years they will get this worked out.

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PrettyTony 3 years, 1 month ago

The man is INNOCENT until proven guilty. The peoples had a whole trial to show that burden of proof. Didn't happen...

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PrettyTony 3 years, 1 month ago

The man is INNOCENT until proven guilty. The peoples had a whole trial to show that burden of proof. Didn't happen...

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geekin_topekan 3 years, 1 month ago

Black on black crime is never a huge priority in America.

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jhawkinsf 3 years, 1 month ago

Whenever there is a mistrial with a deadlocked jury, it's helpful for the casual observer to know what the vote was. Eleven to one, one way or the other tells us a lot, 6-6 tells us something completely different. It is permissible to interview jurors after they have been dismissed from duty. JW - Any chance that information could be in the offing?

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justforfun 3 years, 1 month ago

Ohhhhh, I do feel sorry for the one male juror!!!!! Can you even imagine listening to 11 woman debate for 17 hours?? He is probabably at a bar getting drunk!!! LOL

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jackpot 3 years, 1 month ago

The way I read it is the last update was yesterday at 11:13 a.m.

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ebyrdstarr 3 years, 1 month ago

The way I read it, the judge encouraged them yesterday to come back this morning, which the jury agreed to do. Then this morning, the jury decided it was deadlocked and the judge declared the mistrial.

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formerfarmer 3 years, 1 month ago

So has a mistrial been called or are they deliberating this morning, like the second paragraph says???

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jackpot 3 years, 1 month ago

Judge declares mistrial Tuesday. Why bring back the jury on Wednesday? Something is not reading right.

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Hong_Kong_Phooey 3 years, 1 month ago

The best witness for the prosecution is Major Edwards??! You've gotta be kidding me! Weren't he and his brother arrested by the SWAT team - in the middle of the intersection at 23rd & Haskell - a few years back for threatening to kill cops?

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