JACKSON COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - Nicholas DeMorst has been convicted and sentenced to life without the possibility of parole for the murder of Hunter Miller.
After closing arguments Thursday and four hours of deliberations, the judge had planned to send the jury home for the day, but jurors came back into the courtroom and said they had reached a verdict.
Jurors had three options: They could have found DeMorst not guilty, guilty of deliberate design murder, or guilty of capital murder. All 12 jurors had to agree to the outcome.
Thursday morning, both sides were given 60 minutes for closing arguments. Assistant District Attorney Cherie Wade was first. She told the jury Hunter Miller was lured to a dark street in Gautier on Jan. 14, 2014, where he was shot and killed in the commission of a robbery.
Wade went over testimony from witnesses the prosecution called to the stand over the last three days. She recalled the pain felt by Miller's mother and the state of shock Miller's best friend, Collin Cooper, said he remains in since the murder.
Wade reminded the jury Cooper said he had a bad feeling that night and how DeMorst made demands, "Don't f* move," before shooting his friend. She outlined the investigation Gautier police conducted that lead them to arrest DeMorst for capital murder.
After discussing the charge of capital murder and why she believes that charge fits the crime DeMorst committed, Wade went on to talk about the lesser charge, deliberate design murder.
Wade told the jury this charge would only fit if they didn't believe beyond a reasonable doubt DeMorst tried to rob Miller before he shot and killed him.
"We have proved DeMorst attempted to rob Miller," said Wade.
Wade also put several slides up on a projector to explain the, "defendant's alibi cook-up." She said the interview of DeMorst talking to police after being arrested showed he had to think about an alibi for the night of the murder. DeMorst was repeating himself in what she said was an attempt to buy time and make up a story.
"Tuesday night. Tuesday night, where was I," she repeated DeMorst's answers. "I'm not going to lie. I was smoking weed."
Then, Wade said DeMorst came up with an alibi.
"I was helping home girl with her car," DeMorst told police.
When asked who home girl was, Wade said DeMorst didn't have an answer and changed the subject from talking about where he was that night. Wade questioned the alibi saying if he was at his girlfriend's, Brittney Bridges, house like Bridges' mom testified Wednesday, then why didn't he tell police that the day he was arrested?
Wade went over the recorded phone calls DeMorst made from jail to his girlfriend. She said they were trying to get his alibi together, talking about how they went to pick up a car. He instructed Bridges to go talk to the man at the shop. Never, Wade said, did they talk about them being at Bridges' house at the time of the murder.
In the last call played, DeMorst told his girlfriend, "I f* up."
"What was he talking about? I submit to you he was talking about trying to rob and kill Miller," Wade told the jury.
Prosecutors also questioned why DeMorst's stories changed from the police interview, to his testimony at the grand jury, to the alibi that he was at Bridges' house. He also told the grand jury he didn't know Freddie Lawrence that well. Wade reminded the jury Lawrence testified they had known each other for a few years.
Wade said the evidence shows the defendant was in Gautier and robbed and killed Miller. Two witnesses had the same story
"The defendant and Hunter had a short conversation about the pills. Then, the defendant turned around and pointed a gun at Hunter making demands, 'Give me that. Don't f* move.'
"Who told you the defendant shot Hunter? Kenneth told you, Collin told you and Freddie told you. Then, there were the threats made by the defendant to keep their mouth shut," Wade said.
In testimony, Knox and Lawrence said DeMorst made those threats to them.
The defense was next. DeMorst's attorney, Wayne Woodall, addressed the jury for the last time.
"We never lacked compassion or sympathy," Woodall said.
DeMorst was not the man who shot Miller, Woodall insisted.
"Make the district attorney find the right person. Don't put him in jail for something he didn't do," Woodall said.
Woodall attacked holes he said police left in the investigation, and he questioned the character of the witnesses. According to Woodall, both witnesses had inconsistencies in the payment for the drugs and the description of the suspect. One person described the shooter as 6'1", but Woodall said DeMorst is 6'4". Knox said the killer was light skinned, but Woodall said he's not light skinned, he doesn't have a mustache or an afro like described and Woodall said one witness testified he was wearing a hat while the other didn't.
Woodall said Tessica Bridges, DeMorst's girlfriend's mother, testified DeMorst was at her house in Moss Point around 8 p.m. the night of the murder.
"How could he get to Gautier 10 or 11 minutes later," Woodall asked.
Another hole in the investigation Woodall questioned was testimony by witnesses that there was someone with DeMorst the night of the murder.
"Who was that person, and why wasn't that person here," Woodall asked. "Finally, after two or three days, Knox says the streets are saying it's LA (DeMorst's nickname). Freddie Lawrence says there are four or five LA's here. Knox knew DeMorst as TT is TT LA? I don't know. Did they get the first LA they could find and say you're it," Woodall said.
Woodall also addressed the tattoos his client has. He said the money bags on DeMorst's arms have a 90 etched inside for 1990, the year he was born, not 60 for the Rolling 60s gang.
Woodall also pointed out to the jury that there was never any testimony over the robbery.
"The facts don't seem to exist," Woodall said. "There's so many holes and conflicts. There's not only a reasonable doubt, but they are absolute questions. Do they have proof?"
Knox first identified another man in a photo lineup saying he was the killer. Later, it was determined that man was in jail.
"If he wasn't locked up without bond, would he be the one sitting here instead of my client? Glad he didn't name me," Woodall said. "One vote can make sure he's not wrongly convicted."
District Attorney Tony Lawrence was the last one to address the jury before deliberations. He cleared up some of the described inconsistencies.
"Let's remember what these people were going through. They were probably going through the most traumatic thing in their life," Lawrence said. "Think they are going to take notes, make memos, look at the speedometer? You can change a shirt, hat, gold teeth. Let's talk about what you can't change. Let's talk about what you can't take out of your mouth. Let's talk about what shirt you can't take off."
One thing you can't change, Lawrence said, is past relationships. Why did DeMorst tell police he didn't know Knox, but there were 30 calls made the day of the murder between Knox and DeMorst?
The two witnesses who testified said two or three shots were fired that night. Woodall questioned where the other bullet casings were. Lawrence had an answer.
He told the jury the defendant picked up the shell casings before taking off, and that was corroborated by Knox.
Before finishing, Lawrence put up two slides for jurors to see that said, "Common Sense Guides You to the Truth."
On those slides, Lawrence said it shows how phone records prove DeMorst killed Miller. He said Knox called DeMorst at 8:15 that night, because he couldn't find him on the street to do the drug deal. Between 8:15 p.m. and 8:23 p.m. there were no calls made by DeMorst, Lawrence said.
"That's because he said he attempted to rob and then killed Miller," said Lawrence.
The first phone call after the shooting at 8:23 p.m. Lawrence said phone records show DeMorst called Tessica Bridges. Bridges told the jury Wednesday she had only seen DeMorst twice before the murder. She didn't really know him.
"Ask yourself this question. Why would he be calling Tessica Bridges if they are sitting at her house watching TV just a few minutes after she stuck her head in the door," Lawrence said.
Bridges testified she saw DeMorst at her house around 8 p.m.
"Who did this? That's the question for y'all," Lawrence said. "Standing before you is every fact to convict him of capital murder from testimony of at least two people."
With that, the judge dismissed the jury to the deliberation room. The defense asked the judge to declare a mistrial, but the judge denied that request.
Michelle Lady is at the courthouse and will let you know when a decision is made on WLOX.com and on WLOX News.