A man has been acquitted of the murders of his stepfather and a great-grandmother police say could have been a witness to the killing more than a decade ago
PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A man has been acquitted of the execution-style murder of his stepfather and the slaying of a great-grandmother who authorities said could have been a witness to the Philadelphia slaying more than a decade ago.
Jurors deliberated for a little less than five hours Friday before acquitting Theo Berry, 32, in his second trial in the killings of Duane Bell, 41, and Cotneita Hanchard, 64, in March 2007, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported .
Berry held his head in his hands after the verdict was announced and family members behind him sobbed and whispered “Thank you.”
Relatives of Hanchard sat in court with tears in their eyes and afterward called the pain “unbearable.”
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“It’s like my mom died for nothing,” said her son, Leroy Gregory, of west Philadelphia.
Berry was arrested in December 2009 and tried in 2012 with prosecutors vowing to seek the death penalty if he was convicted of first-degree murder, but jurors were unable to reach a verdict. He has been in jail for the last six years pending the retrial, during which prosecutors were no longer seeking capital punishment.
Prosecutors cited no eyewitness testimony, video or forensic evidence, nor did they suggest a definitive motive. The case relied largely on cellphone records placing Berry near the scene in the minutes before and after the shooting and the fact that Berry was the last person to call his stepfather minutes before the crime — something he lied to detectives about, according to records presented in court this week.
Defense attorney Brian McMonagle told jurors in his closing argument Thursday that prosecutors hadn’t “come within a million miles” of proving that Berry was the killer. He noted that two guns were used and attacked the credibility of a witness, saying she only came forward after being charged with the illegal purchase of a gun.
The slaying occurred during one of the most violent stretches in the city in a decade, and Gregory received national attention when he returned from his Army post in Afghanistan to bury his mother.
“Where is the real war?” Gregory said at the time. “Is it here in Philadelphia or over there in Afghanistan?”