By Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Thomas James Ward’s jury decided to sleep on a verdict Wednesday night and returns today for full deliberations.
They will consider whether Ward, 25, is guilty of depraved heart murder, manslaughter by culpable negligence or is not guilty in the April 15, 2010, shooting death of Anna Catherine McCoy at Ward’s Saltillo home.
In more than 70 minutes of closing remarks, Ward’s attorney, Victor Fleitas, told the jury his client did not murder McCoy – that it was a tragic accident.
“Thomas Ward did not murder her,” Fleitas said. “He did not commit manslaughter. Convicting him will not bring Anna back.”
To convict him of depraved heart murder, the jury must agree unanimously that he acted with extreme recklessness without regard for the safety of human life.
If that’s the verdict, he will be sentenced to life in prison.
If they convict on the charge of manslaughter by culpable negligence, a lesser charge, Judge James L. Roberts Jr. will decide a sentence of up to 20 years in prison.
The trial began May 1 in the Lee County Justice Center, and each day has been an emotional one for families on both sides of the case. Open weeping was not uncommon through testimony about McCoy’s death, her injuries and how various aspects of the evidence was determined.
The state rested its case midday Tuesday after offering 17 witnesses. The defense wrapped up its side with only four witnesses, two of Ward’s friends and two experts in firearms distance and wound ballistics.
At mid-afternoon Wednesday, Ward and Fleitas stood before Roberts and Ward announced that he’d decided not to testify.
Earlier in the day, defense expert Dr. James Lauridson, an Alabama forensic pathologist, criticized the Mississippi Crime Lab examiner for not ordering a test of tissue within the bullet’s entry wound to McCoy’s face. He said it could have provided information one way or another on how close the .40-caliber firearm was to her when it discharged.
Ward told police that it went off accidentally as McCoy was passing it to him.
“It did not happen. It could not happen,” Assistant District Attorney Richard Bowen told the jury in closing statements. “This gun … was made with a safety mechanism that would prevent just the thing that man says happened.”
In his statement, Fleitas questioned multiple mistakes made in the investigation and said the state “reverse-engineered” what happened to prove their conclusion that Ward did it.
He urged the jury to listen again to the Lee County E-911 calls from the shooting scene.
“I do not believe that anyone who listens to this can conclude that the voices here… that voice of Thomas Ward is the voice of a murderer,” Fleitas said about Ward’s frantic voice on the line.
District Attorney Trent Kelly told the jury it all comes down to recklessness.
“I tell you that to point, aim and pull the trigger is a reckless act with a loaded or unloaded handgun,” Kelly said.