After six weeks of testimony, and less than a day of deliberation, the jury announced its verdict Tuesday in a double murder trial: not guilty and not guilty.
Stunned silence followed the annoucement in the Juneau Superior Courtroom, and emotions ran high as defendant as Laron Carlton Graham hugged his attorney Natasha Norris.
“I want to remain as respectful of the State as I can because I know the Tonsmeires are grieving,” Norris said. “I am sorry for their loss and so sorry for their grieving, but my client should never have been charged.”
Graham was facing two counts of first-degree murder for the November 2015 shooting deaths of Elizabeth Tonsmeire, 34, and Robby Meireis, 36, at the Admiralty Condos in Douglas. Tonsmeire’s mother and father were in the courtroom as the verdict was read, and left quickly afterward.
Prosecuting attorney John Darnall also left, declining to comment.
Prosecutors alleged Graham shot Meireis dead after Meireis called him a racial slur during a confrontation over drugs, then kille Tonsmeire to cover up the crime.
The defense said there was no murder weapon, witnesses or forensics tying Graham to the scene, and that a key witness in the state’s case — a former inmate housed adjacent to Graham in prison whom Graham allegedly confessed to — was not credible.
Norris’ impassioned attack on the case’s inconsistencies in the prosecution’s evidence appeared to have swayed the jury of nine women and three men, who took roughly six hours of deliberation to come to a verdict between Monday afternoon and Tuesday around noon.
“I think the biggest consideration was the time of the death the timeline of events,” Norris said in an interview with reporters after court adjourned Tuesday.
“I am very overwhelmed,” she added, visibly tearful, after court. “I’m very grateful that the jury listened and did their job.”
Graham will return to prison to serve out the rest of the time for another charge, Norris said, but he’ll be free after that.
“It was also a horrific thing that happened here and people want closure, but that’s not enough to reason to convict someone innocent,” Norris said. “I really hoped this was a sign the system was working.”
At this time, the Juneau Police Department has no plans to reopen their investigation into the murders, said Lt. Krag Campbell.
“If new leads come in regarding whether he’s the suspect, or there’s other alleged suspects, we’ll look into them,” Campbell said. “We believed based on the charges that he’s the one that committed the homicides.”
• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at 523-2271 or firstname.lastname@example.org.