MOUNT VERNON — Who shot first, where the cars were positioned on Ohio 586 and the definition of self-defense were crucial pieces to the puzzle that convicted Michael Collins of only two of the nine criminal charges filed against him, according to a jurist who spoke exclusively with the News.
The week-long trial of Collins in Knox County Common Pleas Court ended with a guilty verdict of two minor charges — tampering with evidence and having a weapon while under disability. Other charges which did not produce a conviction were those for murder, voluntary manslaughter, involuntary manslaughter, attempted murder and felonious assault. Collins was being tried following an incident which occurred in July 2011 in which Lilly Dawn Pressley-Claggett died from gunshot wounds, and Collins’ son, Jesse Collins, was wounded and is now in a wheelchair paralyzed from the chest down, after being shot by his father.
When deliberations began, the jurist said, the panel of 12 went straight to the charges of tampering with evidence and having a weapon under disability.
“Those were the two we found guilty because those were beyond a reasonable doubt,” said the jurist. “He did tamper with evidence and he did have a gun when he wasn’t suppose to. Those were cut and dry so we did those first because we knew they were guilty.”
The remaining charges were all countered by the claim of self-defense. It was the jury’s questions regarding self-defense that sparked most of the eight hours of deliberations.
“Count one was pretty easy because that was pre-meditated,” the jurist said. “I don’t think that we all felt that he went there with the intent to kill. Count one we were able to put off pretty quickly. Then those counts in the middle — there is always that heat of the moment type thing, where you just do it in the heat of the moment with the passion, the anger and being scared and all that. That’s where we could have … I personally felt like we didn’t have to do self-defense on every single count. That we could have broken it up and said, at this point in time, he did have a choice.”
The profile for self defense has to prove that the defendant did not create the situation, that the defendant exhausted all options prior to using deadly force and had no other means of escape.
“I’m not sure 100 percent on all of those,” the jurist said. “I don’t think he created the situation. I do think that in those 45 seconds he felt like he had exhausted everything he could possibly do before using deadly force,” said the juror. “The third part is where I get hung up on, because I think there were plenty of opportunities for him to stop and make another choice.”
“We felt he was guilty of several of the different counts; but once you put the self defense in, then we could not continue to say he was guilty,” said the juror.
“The judge also said we could use our common sense. I feel that we probably didn’t use as much common sense as we could have. I think if we had used common sense, we would have come up with a different verdict.”
In regard to the case presented by the prosecution and the defense, the juror told the News both sides were lacking in what could have been pivotal information.
“I think both the defense and prosecution failed. The defense didn’t prove enough self defense. And the prosecution didn’t prove that it was not self defense. If both parties had done a better job, I feel like we could have done a better job,” said the juror.
The position of the two vehicles on Ohio 586 were never made clear, the juror said. A visual aid establishing the positioning would have created a concise picture of the events. Because of the lack of visual information, the jurist said the panel had to rely heavily on where the bullet casings were located along the road to establish who shot first to determine if Collins was returning fire in self defense.
“We kept coming back to the point of who shot first ... she shot first,” said the juror. “I have a feeling that is what swayed the self defense [argument].”
The juror also stated that having the people living in the nearby trailer testify as a bystander would have helped in knowing where shots were fired. “Evidence they gave us was all on the road. We had to go by what was said.”
Seeing Collins testify on the stand did not sway the jury in their decision, according to Juror. “We saw the video from two days after the incident. The two testimonies lined up really close,” said the juror, adding that Michael, Jesse and Melissa Collins’ testimonies all gave the same story and all seemed credible, although the jurist questions whether or not planned testimony could have been formulated by the family in the year between the incident and the trial.
Details of an argument between Michael and Jesse are what the juror said could have been key components to any decision. Other missing pieces were the lack of toxicology tests. “They only ran toxicology on Lilly Dawn. I think they should have ran toxicology on all four,” said the juror. That information would have helped determine state of mind for all parties involved in the incident.
While the jurist is proud of jury’s service to the public, there remains skepticism for the process that resulted in a verdict not everyone on the panel is pleased with.
“I cannot speak for the other jurors, but I came away with the feeling that I had failed at the job I was asked to do. I felt that I came to the only conclusion that I could with the facts I had to go on, but that was probably not the correct decision. So I feel that my service as a juror was compromised by the lack on the parts of both the defense and the prosecution.”
“I don’t think we were thrilled with the verdict. I think all of us were wishing there was something else we could come up with. But we felt like because that self defense was thrown in there, it really tied our hands.”
- Shooting leaves one dead, one injured July 4, 2011
- Frazeysburg man remains in critical condition after shootingJuly 5 2011
- Shooting shocks fire department July 7, 2011
- Collins remains in serious condition July 12, 2011
- Collins indicted for murder of Claggett August 4, 2011
- Collins Kramer gets community control December 10, 2011
- Collins' trial postponed February 7, 2012
- Murder trial starts with jury selection Tuesday July 16, 2012
- Murder trial tale of two stories July 18, 2012
- Prosecution lays foundation for case July 19, 2012
- Case continues to be built against Collins July 20, 2012
- Son, daughter testify against father July 21, 2012
- Jury deliberations continue July 23, 2012
- Jury renders verdict in Collins case July 23, 2012
- Collins found guilty of two minor charges July 24, 2012