HED: Mistrial declared on Gates’ murder charge
April 21, 1996
By Jane Hill
OXFORD – A Desoto County jury convicted Timothy Keith Gates Saturday of shooting Lafayette County High School student Jason Gossett, but declared itself hopelessly deadlocked over the question of whether Gates was guilty of murdering Gossett’s friend James Scott Patterson.
After a day and a half of deliberation, the three-man, nine-woman panel sent word to Circuit Court Judge Kenneth Coleman that it had reached a verdict on the second count of Gates’ indictment, but not the first.
When questioned by the judge about whether they might be able to come to a unanimous verdict on the murder charge, most jurors shook their heads in frustration.
Tears fell on both sides of the courtroom. Members of the Patterson and Gossett families, their friends and supporters arrayed behind the prosecution table expressed emotion that the ordeal of a trial would have to be repeated. Behind the defense table, members of the Gates family wept as Coleman went on to sentence Gates on the second charge of aggravated assault.
Sheriff’s deputies lined the back of the second-story courtroom and also were stationed on the first floor among spectators. The capital murder case has stirred great public sentiment in Lafayette County.
It was for that reason and because of pretrial publicity surrounding the case that the defense team requested a change of venue and was allowed to choose a jury from neighboring Desoto County.
Coleman declared a mistrial on the capital murder charge and said a new trial date would be set as soon as possible. Speculation by attorneys present was that the new trial would be set for late summer or early fall.
Coleman sentenced Gates to 20 years on the aggravated assault charge as a habitual offender after taking into account two previous convictions, one for grand larceny in 1989 and one for uttering a forgery in 1991. Sentences for habitual offenders cannot be suspended or commuted and they are not eligible for parole, he said.
Prosecution to pursue death penalty
Gates remains accused of the crime of capital murder in the death of Patterson, who was killed Dec. 1, 1994, on a rural Lafayette County road while checking on his parents’ hunting cabin with Gossett. The prosecution argued that Gates’ motive for the shootings was robbery.
Special prosecutor Larry Little said the door is still open for a capital murder conviction, and if it is returned the state still plans to pursue the death penalty.
“We are thankful for the verdict rendered and look forward to the retrial on count one, which is the capital murder count, and for which the defendant is still subject to a death sentence,” Little said.
If a defendant is convicted of capital murder, the jury can impose a sentence of life in prison without parole or death by lethal injection.
Defense plans appeal
Defense attorney Joey Langston said he informed the judge that his office plans to appeal the aggravated assault charge and also plans to defend Gates in the retrial.
Langston said, considering the time the jury took deliberating, the defense was expecting a mistrial, but was not expecting the conviction on the lesser charge. He said he planned to interview members of the jury to determine why and how the verdict came out as it did.
“We are obviously pleased that our client was not convicted of capital murder,” Langston said. “The prosecutors have a strong case and it was well-presented. We had prepared our client and his family for whatever verdict they might hear. It’s a good thing that we did not have to explain to them how one is executed.”
Before the retrial, Langston said he plans to ask the state to run DNA tests on blood samples taken from a glove in Gates’ truck to determine if the blood belonged to either of the two boys. The defense also plans to petition the state to investigate Johnny Hogue, a former friend of Gates’ who Gates testified did the actual shooting.