Mt. Vernon Register-News

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July 29, 2010

Wilks Not Guilty; At least two arrested following verdict

MT. VERNON — The courtroom erupted as Judge Terry Gamber read the jury verdict in the first-degree murder trial of 21-year-old Lashawn Wilks: Not guilty.

Audience members had to be physically removed from the room as friends and family of Wilks cheered and family members of shooting victim Carlton Holmes began crying. Some yelled at the jury.

Gamber had already admonished the audience that no displays, cheers, talking or yelling would be allowed when the verdict was read, regardless of the jury verdict. He immediately asked bailiffs to remove those who had caused the disturbance. Some jurors wiped tears from their eyes as a result of the outbursts.

As the crowd moved out of the courtroom and through the courthouse, emotions ran high and the disturbance spilled over onto city streets. At least  two were arrested by the Mt. Vernon Police Department.

“I want to apologize to each of you for this demonstration,” Gamber told the jury after the crowd was removed from the courtroom. “This is not the way we conduct trials or the way we do business in Jefferson County.”

Jurors deliberated on the fate of Wilks for one hour before returning the not guilty verdict. Wilks shot Carlton Holmes on Jan. 2 in the south parking lot of Nu Bowl Lanes, with the jury deciding the shooting was justified by self-defense. The jury was given the choice of finding Wilks not guilty, guilty of first-degree murder or guilty of second-degree murder.

“You were charged with finding the facts in this case by the law, which is extremely difficult,” Gamber told the jury. “Everything done in this case was done to find justice and you certainly did that.”

Special prosecutor David Rands of the Appellate Prosecutors Office said he also appreciated the work of the jury, calling it “a difficult case.”

When the verdict was read, the only display shown by Wilks was an expression of relief on his face as he turned to face the audience sitting behind him. The defense team of Public Defender Bob Verhines, attorney Mark Kochan and investigator Nancy Bechtoldt of Durbin Investigations all shook hands with him and congratulated him.

“I can’t say how proud I am of the jury and their deliberations,” Kochan said. “I think this is an example of the justice system working. They paid attention to Lashawn’s testimony, which was from his heart and I think the jury saw that. ... All we did was present the case to the jury and at the end of the day, it was Lashawn who testified and told what happened and they believed him. We were there to help the truth get out.”

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