PASCAGOULA, MS (WLOX) - Jackson County's District Attorney says a jury's decision to convict a Moss Point teenager of murder instead of capital murder should not affect the upcoming trials of two alleged co-conspirators.
Lawyers for Darwin Wells, 16, didn't dispute Wells was the trigger man in the killing of a Hattiesburg man who had stopped at a gas station last year to ask for directions. In fact, defense attorneys said they weren't asking jurors for a not guilty verdict. The issue of dispute in court was whether the teenager intended to rob his victim.
"It's not a question if a crime was committed. I think a crime was committed here. The issue is whether it was capital murder or not," said Defense Attorney Brice Kerr.
Kerr argued that his client, Darwin Wells, was guilty of a crime. But that crime was not capital murder. Kerr contended the state had not proved Wells was trying to rob Michael Porter when he shot and killed him.
"Was it a bunch of kids with a gun running around trying to just rough somebody up? Scare somebody because they thought that was a cute thing to do? Scare the devil out of somebody or some other stupid reason thought up by a group of stupid, immature kids with a gun? Maybe so?" Kerr said.
The jury sided with the defense and convicted Wells of murder, not capital murder, to the surprise of prosecutors.
District Attorney Tony Lawrence said, "We put a murderer behind bars today. I think I'm shocked because I don't understand why it's not capital murder based on the proof of what happened out there that night. But that's the jury's prerogative. They make those decisions."
Judge Dale Harkey sentenced Wells to life in prison. The judge said the incident was one of the saddest he'd had the misfortune of presiding over.
"You, sir, deserve no sympathy," Judge Harkey told the defendant.
The murder conviction means the 16-year-old won't be eligible for parole until he's 65.
Prosecutors say they feel age played a role in Wells being convicted of a lesser charge.
"How do you separate that? How do you tell the jury to ignore his age?" Lawrence asked. "He is a young kid. But the other thing is, he committed an adult crime and he should be punished like an adult."
Michael Porter's family chose not to speak to the media. But prosecutors say the family is divided over whether justice was served.
"It's split," Lawrence said. "Some family members were satisfied that he's going to jail for the rest of his life and that they [jurors] did call it a murder. Some family members felt they don't know how you could not call it a capital murder because of the way the situation happened that night."
Lawrence said, "A man lost his life. He was 44 years of age. Linda now has to live the rest of her life without her husband. Two daughters living without their father. Got a mother and a father without their son."
Two other teens face capital murder charges in this case. District Attorney Tony Lawrence said his office will go to trial against Terry Hye Jr.,16, and Telvin Benjamin,15, in January.