Gregory Avery Jr. was acquitted Friday in the February 2009 double homicide at Cabaret West in Washington after jurors determined there were too many questions surrounding the case.
Avery, wearing a white shirt and checkered tie, pointed to the courtroom ceiling after the jury of six men and six women returned its not guilty verdict on two counts of homicide and one conspiracy charge shortly after 10 a.m. Friday.
Avery, 25, of Washington, was returned to Washington County jail to face charges in a 2008 shooting. As sheriff’s deputies led him out of Judge Katherine Emery’s courtroom, Avery motioned to family and friends sitting in the front and spoke briefly to them.
“I love you,” he said, before walking through a side door. “Be careful. I love you.”
Marquis Taylor, 24, and Troy Saunders Jr., 23, were shot to death outside the now-closed bar on West Chestnut Street Feb. 16, 2009. Phillip Whitlock, who already confessed to shooting Taylor, testified Monday that Avery was the other shooter. Whitlock, 31, pleaded guilty to third-degree murder in April 2012, just before his trial was to begin. He agreed to cooperate with prosecutors in Avery’s trial and is now awaiting sentencing.
However, jurors said there were too many questions surrounding Whitlock’s testimony, raising enough reasonable doubt about Avery’s alleged role in the homicides. The jury began deliberating Thursday after hearing five days of testimony.
“There was nothing to put him there (at the scene),” said a juror, who asked not to be identified, while walking out of the courthouse.
Mike DeRiso, Avery’s defense attorney, hammered away at Whitlock’s credibility during closing arguments Wednesday and raised questions about the prosecution’s physical evidence.
“Any time you finish a case and there are more questions at the end of the trial than at the beginning, there’s reasonable doubt in anyone’s mind,” DeRiso said.
Assistant District Attorney Mike Lucas, who was prosecuting his final case before becoming a Washington County judge next month, said the “street code of silence” hampered investigators from the beginning.
“I think this case had challenges because of the street code of silence that prevented the police from getting information early on and prevented it from making it a better case,” Lucas said.
He said the 2009 double homicide was the “culmination of several prior incidents of violence” in which victims refused to cooperate with investigators.
That includes Whitlock’s uncle, Hugh Whitlock, who testified Tuesday that Avery shot him in the shoulder in September 2008 with a .22-caliber handgun that was later identified by police as one of the double homicide weapons. Hugh Whitlock initially refused to tell police who shot him and only came forward in June. Avery was then charged with aggravated assault and terroristic threats in that case.
“Until that reluctance, that ‘code of the street’ is put to bed forever, we unfortunately will have these challenges from time to time,” Lucas said. “The only way these segments of the population are going to have that true justice is if the individuals who are impacted by these crimes come forward and come forward early.”
Avery remains in jail on $50,000 bond in the 2008 case, although DeRiso said he plans to petition the court next week to have his bail reduced. A court date has not been set for that case.