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W.Va. man not guilty in slaying

August 31, 2005|by CANDICE BOSLEY

MARTINSBURG, W.VA.

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

Three years, four months, 18 days and about an hour later, John W. Jenkins Jr. lifted his eyes skyward, then closed them after a court clerk read aloud these two words: "Not guilty."

A Berkeley County jury of nine women and three men deliberated for less than two hours Tuesday before acquitting Jenkins in the shooting death of his second cousin, Steven Cole, 37, of Martinsburg, on April 12, 2002.

As the jury forewoman walked out of the courtroom after the verdict was read, she looked at Jenkins, smiled and appeared to mouth the words, "good luck."

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Sitting next to his wife with tears in his eyes, Jenkins, 38, of Bunker Hill, W.Va., agreed to speak briefly afterward from a conference room in his attorneys' office.

Two uniformed deputies stood outside of the law office's main doors, fearing a retaliation attempt from Cole's family.

"I had two attorneys that believed in me three years ago, and when they said 'not guilty' I knew I had 12 people that believed in me today," Jenkins said.

Jenkins was represented by Martinsburg attorneys Kevin Mills and Harley Wagner.

"To me, it's very simple. Twelve educated jurors and an innocent man equals not guilty in any American courtroom," Wagner said. "We're thankful that the jury agreed with us."

Mills said he and his law partner are not in business to win or lose cases, but to take on cases in which they believe.

"We've always believed in John," Mills said.

In his 25 years in law, Mills said this was the first time a juror has wished a client good luck.

Jenkins was accused of shooting Cole several times, including once in the upper lip and once behind his left ear. Another bullet grazed his abdomen and became lodged in his elbow, according to testimony.

The fatal wound entered the center of Cole's back and exited near his left armpit, an expert testified.

Jenkins has maintained he shot Cole in self-defense after Cole pulled a gun on him and fired one bullet toward him.

Jenkins was the first and only witness to testify Tuesday - the fifth day of the trial.

He testified about his family, violent outbursts from Cole and the shooting.

He said he and Cole were on Goldmiller Road, just north of the Virginia state line in Bunker Hill when Cole picked up Jenkins' revolver, which had been between them underneath a stack of papers in the cab of Jenkins' pickup truck.

Jenkins said he thought Cole was probably pointing it at some junk that had been dumped along the rural road.

"I was expecting to see it pointed out the window. As I turned it was pointed at my head," Jenkins said, crying. The judge called for a five-minute recess to allow Jenkins to regain his composure.

Jenkins testified that the gun first went off when he raised his hands to protect his face. Other shots were fired as he and Cole struggled to gain control of the weapon, he said.

Jenkins said the shot to the back occurred when the gun went off after Cole fell forward and he fell backward.

Asked whether he is upset Cole died, Jenkins replied, "It haunts me day and night."

Jurors had five options - finding Jenkins innocent or finding him guilty of first-degree murder, second-degree murder, voluntary manslaughter or involuntary manslaughter.

They deliberated for an hour and 38 minutes.

Tina Hutzler, a longtime friend of Cole and his family, said she disagreed with the verdict.

"It wasn't served. Justice wasn't served," said Hutzler, a criminal justice student at The Community and Technical College of Shepherd. "Shooting somebody in the back, that's not self-defense. That's downright, cold-blooded murder."

Hutzler said she was upset Cole was depicted as a "bad guy" and that none of his family members or friends were allowed to testify on his behalf.

Members of Cole's family declined to comment about the verdict.

Berkeley County Prosecutor Pamela Pamela Games-Neely said she planned to call character witnesses to tell the jury about Cole, but she was not allowed to do so by Circuit Judge Christopher Wilkes.

"I feel particularly sorry for Cole's family," she said.

Games-Neely said she was surprised by how briefly the jury deliberated. Once the jury indicated it had reached a verdict, Games-Neely said she expected it to be guilty of second-degree murder or voluntary manslaughter.

"They just said shooting someone in the back is OK, which is unfortunate," she said.

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