Mount Vernon News

By Mount Vernon News
July 24, 2012 11:58 am EDT


MOUNT VERNON — After four and a half days of trial, it took the jury about eight hours to reach its verdict: Not guilty on seven counts, guilty on only two. The jury said Michael Collins was not guilty of murder, not guilty of voluntary manslaughter, not guilty of involuntary manslaughter, not guilty of attempted murder, not guilty of felonious assault. It found Collins, 55, guilty on only two charges: Having a weapon while under disability and tampering with evidence.

Collins was charged in the death of Lilly Dawn Pressley-Claggett, 35, of St. Louisville in an incident on Martinsburg Road the night of July 1, 2011. Jesse Collins, 31, Michael’s son and a passenger in the Claggett car, was wounded in the incident and is now in a wheelchair, paralyzed from the chest down. The incident started at 1520 Martinsburg Road, and continued up Martinsburg Road about 300 feet, where the car driven by Claggett wound up in ditch along a line of pine trees.


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Michael Collins sat almost unmoving throughout the trial, seldom even changing expression. The only time his attention seemed to wander was after the verdicts were read and the judge had to speak to him twice to get his attention, as he had apparently turned to look at his wife and two daughters seated in the court room.

Knox County Prosecutor John Thatcher declined to comment on the case.

Defense attorney Bruce Malek also declined comment, except to say that the jury “obviously carefully examined the evidence, considering how long they deliberated.”

The jurors, six men and six women, leaving the courthouse after meeting privately with Judge Otho Eyster, all declined the opportunity to comment on their decision.

Collins’ wife and daughters also had no comment as they left the courthouse.

Collins will be sentenced at 9 a.m. Aug. 24, following a presentencing investigation by the court’s investigator.

Possessing a weapon while under disability and tampering with evidence are both third degree felonies and carry potential sentences of 9 to 36 months. A firearms specification carries an extra year, to be served before the sentences if either violation are served.

Outside the courthouse, two friends of Claggett were crying and upset with the verdict.

“Losing her was hard, but having the last perception of her to be the troubled part of her life is almost as hard,” said Stacy Clayton of Howard, who described herself as a close friend since childhood. “That’s not who she was.”

“We hoped for a different result,” said another childhood friend, Crystal Cooper of St. Louisville.

“We were hoping to see justice served and we have to have faith that in the end, justice will be served; that he will face God for judgment.”

Although acknowledging Claggett had problems, they described their friend as having a “delightful personality,” not the sharp-tempered drug and alcohol user the defense tried to portray in the trial and blame for sparking the shooting incident.

Contact Chuck Martin

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