HED: Jury begins deliberations in Gates trial
LEDE IN: Final arguments made in capital murder case
By Jane Hill
OXFORD – Attorneys made their closing arguments Friday in the capital murder trial of Timothy Keith Gates and then began a deliberation session that began in the early afternoon and continued late into Friday night.
If the jury was unable to reach a verdict Friday night, but was not deadlocked, Circuit Court Judge Kenneth Coleman would instruct them to continue deliberations today at the Lafayette County Courthouse. If the jury is deadlocked and cannot reach a unanimous verdict of guilty or not guilty, the case will be declared a mistrial.
Gates is accused of murdering James Scott Patterson and wounding his friend Jason Gossett on the night of Dec. 1, 1994, on a rural Lafayette County road for the purpose of robbing the two Lafayette County High School students.
The jury is being asked to determine guilt or innocence on the charges of capital murder of Patterson and aggravated assault on Gossett.
If the jury returns a guilty verdict, the trial will go into a sentencing phase to determine punishment. Capital murder carries the penalties of life in prison without parole or death by lethal injection.
The argument made by special prosecutor Larry Little for Gates’ guilt was an emotional one. Little, the former district attorney for District 3, was asked by the court to prosecute the case because he was in office when the crime occurred and was the most familiar with the evidence.
Tears choking his voice, Little urged the jurors to seek justice in the case as they swore to do as jurors.
“My oath has expired,” Little said. “But I have to be here. A child was killed on my watch and I can’t let it go.”
Little asked the jury to consider the character of Gates, an admitted alcoholic, burglar and bad check writer.
“He (Gates) is a failure,” Little said. “We could deal with the failures like Tim Gates through the system, as imperfect as it is, when they come in and out on various petty charges. It is when they kill that their pleas for help need to be answered with punishment.”
In his final argument, Langston also exhorted the jurors to remember their oaths and to weigh all the evidence presented in the case without being swayed by the fact of Patterson’s tragic death.
“The issue here is not whether these boys were innocent; they were,” Langston said. “It is not a question about whether these boys were better than Tim Gates; that’s not an issue. Was Tim Gates the shooter? That is the question before you. Keep your eye on the ball.”
Langston argued that not only had the prosecution failed to tie any of the physical evidence to Gates, but that the four confessions on which the state based its case were inconsistent with the facts presented in several different respects.
The defense has argued that the confessions given on Dec. 2 and 3, 1994, were taken when Gates was suffering from withdrawal due to heavy alcohol and prescription medication abuse.
The defense offered an alternate scenario in which Gates witnessed his friend Johnny Hogue shoot the boys and was threatened by Hogue to keep silent about what he’d seen.
“Who picks which parts of the confessions you are to believe and which parts you are to disregard? Them?” Langston asked pointing to the prosecution’s table.