A night’s rest apparently provided all the clarity jurors needed in the Duluth murder trial of Aaron Demetrius Humphreys.
After nine hours of deliberation without a unanimous decision Wednesday, it took the panel of nine women and three men only about an hour to reach a consensus Thursday morning.
The jury found Humphreys, 44, not guilty of intentional second-degree murder in the Oct. 18, 2016, shooting death of 47-year-old Eric Wayne Burns at the front door of Lincoln Park’s Bedrock Bar.
Jurors, however, convicted Humphreys on a felony count of illegally possessing a firearm and misdemeanor fifth-degree assault.
“We’re obviously pleased with the verdict,” defense attorney Kassius Benson said outside the courtroom. “It’s what we hoped for and what we expected.”
Benson said the verdict is a relief for his client, who had faced the murder charge for 21 months and had two prior juries seated this year but abruptly dismissed due to mistrials. The jury had retired to a hotel late Wednesday unable to reach a verdict after six days of testimony and arguments.
The case was prosecuted by assistant St. Louis County attorneys Nate Stumme and Chris Pinkert.
“The state accepts the jury's verdicts and extends sincere appreciation for their diligence and sacrifice,” Stumme said afterward. “There are cases that present facts so contentious that they simply must be presented to an impartial jury for a determination of justice. This was one of those hard cases.”
The jury reached its verdict at about 9:45 a.m. and it was read about 45 minutes later in front of a crowded courtroom. Spectators acceded to 6th Judicial District Judge David Johnson’s request to remain composed and avoid any outbursts during the brief hearing.
Humphreys remained seated and mostly still until court adjourned, at which point he rose and threw his arms around his attorney. In the gallery, his mother brought her hands together and uttered, “Thank you, Lord,” repeatedly.
Johnson ordered Humphreys to remain in custody with sentencing on the lesser charges scheduled for Oct. 5. The firearms charge carries a maximum of 15 years in prison.
Humphreys admitted in his testimony earlier this week that he possessed a firearm on the night of the shooting, despite a criminal history that prevented him from legally doing so, and Benson did not ask jurors for an acquittal on that charge.
Introduced into evidence was a selfie he took in the bar’s bathroom minutes before Burns’ death, holding a semi-automatic pistol that he said he took from his friend Orin Bernard Vann, who he said was “acting crazy.”
Surveillance video showed Humphreys knocking Burns down and kicking him approximately seven times after he became involved in a verbal argument with Vann. That was the basis for the assault charge, which Stumme called “brutal and excessive” but Benson contended was an act of self-defense.
Burns left the bar but returned just three minutes later and was confronted at the front door by Humphreys. Prosecutors alleged that the video showed Humphreys shooting Burns without justification, but Humphreys claimed that he saw another man he knew only by the name “Memphis” fire the shot from outside.
Stumme contended in his closing argument Wednesday that the recessed entryway to the bar and the angle at which the bullet traveled through Burns’ body made it impossible for another person to have fired the shot. But Benson was critical of the investigation, noting that there was no muzzle flash visible in the video and contending that police focused in on Humphreys and failed to consider evidence of another shooter.
In acquitting Humphreys, jurors were not required to conclude that the shooting was actually committed by an alternative perpetrator but simply find “reasonable doubt” that Humphreys shot Burns with an intent to kill.
Benson said he was not surprised that the deliberations trickled into a second day given the severity of the charges and length of the trial. He described his client as nervous and anxious as he awaited the verdict.
“He’s going to try to get back to his life; I think he’ll stay in the Duluth area,” the defense attorney said. “He will still have consequences when he faces sentencing in October, but he’d like to pick up where he left off.”