Jurors in the Robert Gray Jr. murder trial listened to more than an hour of closing arguments late Wednesday afternoon before retiring to consider deliberate. After talking it over for more than an hour, they decided to call it an evening.
The eight women and four men told Judge James R. Fry that they will return to the 15th state District Court at 8 a.m. Thursday to continue their job in the case.
They could find Gray innocent in the death of his 15-year-old step son Brandon White or they could find him guilty of any one of more than a half-a-dozen charges that range from murder to assault.
Denison firefighters arrived at the home Gray shared with Brandon White’s family to find the teen dead on the living room floor on Jan. 7, 2013.
To find Gray guilty of anything, jurors must first find that two affirmative defenses presented to them during the closing arguments do not apply in this case.
Those defenses say that a parent or caretaker can use force, but not deadly force, to provide protection for a child or a mentally disabled person.
The prosecution said the force that was used against Brandon White was obviously deadly force. Assistant Grayson County District Attorney Britton Brooks showed the jury a photo of Brandon White’s bloodied and battered face and asked them if that could be anything other than deadly force.
Jurors received the law that they must apply to the evidence they have seen and heard in the case from Fry, in a document that was 29 pages long.
Matt Johnson, assistant Grayson County attorney, said he was sorry for the awful images the jury had had to see during the case and he was sorry he would have to show them even more.
“What a tragic horrible case,” Johnson said. He then added, “murder is an ugly business.” He said the evidence in the case clearly showed that Gray was guilty of felony murder. He said that means Brandon White died while Gray was committing an act or acts that were clearly dangerous to human life. Prosecutors contend that there is a laundry list of clearly dangerous acts for jurors to choose from to find Gray guilty of the top charge of the indictment. For instance, the prosecution said, jurors could find that tying up and gagging the 15-year-old autistic, bi-polar, schizophrenic, mentally retarded boy was an act that was clearly dangerous to human life. Johnson told jurors that the state did not have to prove that Gray intended to kill his stepson.
“This case isn’t that complicated,” Johnson said. He told jurors to go back and watch Gray’s statements to police. Johnson said Gray’s statement shows that he tied Brandon White up.
Johnson reminded the jury that Gray said, “I put him on the couch.” Gray then told police he put the two couches together and put another chair up against the couch. None of that would have been needed, Johnson said, if Brandon White had not been tied up.
Johnson then asked the jury to remember evidence that there had been a significant delay between when Gray found that Brandon White was in trouble and when the 911 call was made.
“He knew he had killed Brandon. He probably took that time to untie him,” Johnson said.
Talking to the jury about the defenses provided to them within the law in the case, defense attorney Kristin Brown told jurors that when they think about what Gray would have reasonably thought he needed to do and what force he should have used to restrain Brandon White, they needed to put themselves inside Gray’s head on that January day in 2013. She said if they find that Gray thought the force he used was justified, then no crime was committed in the case even though Brandon White died.
She said the prosecutors had to prove that the defenses didn’t apply to the case and that they hadn’t done that.
John Hunter Smith, also a defense attorney, wrapped up Gray’s side of the case. And he laid the responsibility for Brandon White’s death at the feet of his mother, Holli White. Holli White sat behind prosecutors during the closing statements and Smith indicated in her direction as he said she had betrayed her son by not getting him the medication that she knew he needed. Smith said she also betrayed Gray during her testimony in the case. Smith said Brandon White was kicking and biting and screaming as he withdrew from medication. Smith said his client could have left at any time, he wasn’t married to Holli White, but he loved her and her children.
“She took advantage of him as she has so many men in the past,” Smith added. He then said Holli White has been out of jail while his client awaited trial on the murder charge. When he finished discussing Holli White, Smith said, “There is no such thing as normal,” and said that the defense had not meant to place Brandon White on trial, but they thought the jury needed to know about the teen’s behavior to understand the case better.
“The story can’t be told in a tunnel, you have to get the full texture,” he said.
“Brandon White was disturbed,” he added. He then said it was Holli White who had told Gray to restrain her son.
Smith said his client, “was doing the very best he could,” with a bad situation.
He also reminded the jury of the defense expert who said that Brandon White had died from a seizure disorder.
Britton Brooks, assistant Grayson County district attorney, said, no matter what the defense said, Gray was still the last person who saw Brandon White alive. Brooks said Brandon White looked fine when Holli White left him in Gray’s care. Then he showed the jury photos they have seen many times in the trial that show Brandon White’s face battered and bloodied. Brooks reminded the jurors that is the way the 15-year-old looked when paramedics found him.
Brooks said that photo was proof of the brutal murder of Brandon White.
“This man snuffed out a 15-year-old boy’s life just the way he snuffed out cigarettes on Brandon White’s hands,” Brooks said.
He said there is no way the injuries the jury has seen on Brandon White’s body could be explained away by a parent trying to protect a child or a disable person. He asked them if the injuries they saw in those photos looked reasonable.
The case will resume Thursday morning.