CROWN POINT — A Lake Criminal Court jury acquitted a Merrillville man Thursday of a charge alleging he murdered his 20-year-old "cousin" in 2019 as the cousin slept on a recliner at a Gary home.
Courteau Dupree "Yayo" Givens, 33, was accused of "knowingly or intentionally" killing Rashad Edmond, of Gary, on Jan. 3, 2019, at a home in the 6000 block of Hemlock Avenue in the city's Miller section.
Defense attorney John Cantrell said the witness' stories didn't add up and Givens had no reason to shoot Edmond, who suffered a gunshot wound to his forehead.
Givens had been a friend of the family for 20 years and was welcomed into the home, but it was clear he was "the odd man out." Everyone else in the home was biologically related, he said.
Cantrell asked if it was possible one of the several young children sleeping at the house that night got a gun and accidentally shot Edmond.
"Nobody wants their kids taken away," he said.
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The defense attorney questioned why crime scene photos showed little blood, despite the severity of Edmond's wound.
"There is something that should give you pause," he said, asking if it was possible the family cleaned up the crime scene or moved Edmond into the recliner after he was shot somewhere else.
Cantrell questioned the credibility of the family members who testified and suggested they wanted to see Givens convicted.
"Everybody is trying to salvage a situation and blame the odd man out," he said.
Lake County Deputy Prosecutor Tara Villarreal said five witnesses testified to the same basic facts: they each awoke to a gunshot inside the home and saw Givens holding a gun and standing over Edmond, she said.
Each witness also testified one of them pried the gun from Givens' hand and gave it to the homeowner, who in turn gave it to police.
"Yayo shot Rashad," Villarreal said, echoing testimony from the witnesses. "You shot my nephew."
Before the jury was brought in to hear closing arguments, Judge Salvador Vasquez denied Cantrell's motion to allow the jury to consider a lesser offense of reckless homicide. The judge said there was no evidence or testimony that Givens was engaged in reckless conduct at the time the gun went off.
Villarreal objected when Cantrell mentioned reckless homicide during his closing arguments. Vasquez reminded the jurors they were to consider only a murder charge.
Cantrell told the jury, "If you believe my client was acting recklessly, that's different than knowing and intentional."
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Villarreal reminded jurors the state was not required to prove motive.
Pointing a gun at someone and pulling the trigger is a conscious act, she said.
"There is a high probability you will kill that person, and that is what happened here,"
Villarreal said. "The state has met its burden to prove the defendant knowingly killed."
The deputy prosecutor dismissed Cantrell's suggestion the family might have cleaned up the crime scene.
Jurors heard a 911 call where a dispatcher instructed a woman on how to begin CPR on Edmond, she said.
"One, two, three, four," Villarreal said. "Over and over and over again. She was out of breath. She did this until police arrived. She was trying to save that boy's life."
The family would not have had time to tamper with the crime scene, she said, because they were focused on keeping Edmond alive.
A forensic pathology fellow from the Cook County medical examiner's officer testified the bullet didn't hit any major blood vessels in Edmond's head, and it was possible there wasn't a large amount of blood at first.
A firearms examiner testified the bullet casing recovered from the floor of the home was fired from the gun Edmond's family took from Givens and turned over to police.
One witness testified Givens had been showing the gun off to Edmond earlier in the night.
There was no testimony that anyone else in the home had a gun, she said. A detective testified there was no evidence anyone tampered with the crime scene, she said.