Jones Trial Ends in Hung Jury

Jones Trial Ends in Hung Jury

Commonwealth builds case on 'good, old-fashioned eyewitness testimony.'

In the end, it was 11 to 1. Two jurors voted to convict Eric Jones of first-degree murder for killing his best friend, Cory Hargrow. Nine others wanted to convict him of second-degree murder, assuming that he had not acted with premeditation.

The 11 jurors who voted for conviction were persuaded by the commonwealth's case — a case that did not include a murder weapon, fingerprints, DNA or any forensic evidence implicating Jones. Police did not conduct a gunshot residue test on Jones the night of the murder. No motive was ever suggested for the crime, but two eyewitnesses testified that they saw Jones shoot Hargrow. A majority of the jurors believed the prosecutor's theory of the crime.

"I'm telling you that this man is a calculating killer," said Bryan Porter, assistant commonwealth attorney, during closing arguments. "Either the commonwealth's witnesses are lying or the defendant is lying. Somebody is lying."

One juror refused to convict Jones, repeatedly demanding during 17 hours of deliberation that the commonwealth had not met the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt. In a case that relied solely on testimony, she was concerned about statements that had been made by the commonwealth's witnesses. One of the two witnesses who said they saw Jones shoot Hargrow testified that the murderer was wearing a black pea coat. But police on the scene say that Jones was wearing a Northface jacket with fur around the collar, a jacket that looks very different — even under the cover of night.

"Quite frankly, I think their witnesses are assuming certain things based on other factors," said George Wooditch, attorney for the defense. "The evidence supports everything that Eric Jones has said. He's been telling people this from the beginning, but no one wants to listen."

DURING HIS TESTIMONY, Jones put on the coat that he was wearing that night — a move the prosecutor called "an O.J. moment." The jacket was entered into evidence as "Defense Exhibit C," and it created the reasonable doubt for one juror.

In the jury room, jurors went over the testimony again and again. They plotted out where the witnesses had been standing, trying to determine if they could have seen what they testified they had seen. But the question of what Jones was wearing on March 8 kept coming back, eventually creating a stalemate.

"One of the jurors stated that he/she could not convict a person based on circumstantial evidence," one of jurors wrote to the judge in a handwritten note. "10 of the 12 jurors are concerned that the potential belief of this juror may be serving to impede the jury's ability to make a decision."

Circuit Court Judge Richard Jamborsky responded with a handwritten note to jurors.

"Each juror has a sworn obligation to apply the law as set forth in the instructions to the facts, as you find them, in this case," Jamborsky wrote. "The court instructs you to put aside your personal beliefs and opinions that may conflict with the law you swore to follow in deciding the issues in this case."

By Friday afternoon, it was clear that the jury would not be unanimous. Shortly before 5 p.m., Judge Jamborsky declared a mistrial. The commonwealth announced that it would try the case again just as soon as it could schedule a court date.

The declaration of mistrial ended a week of testimony and anticipation, as family members of the slain and accused filled the courtroom for the three days of testimony. With a second trial on the horizon, they are gearing up for another round.

CORY MAURICE HARGROW, 21, was known to his friends as "C Bear." He was murdered shortly after 10:30 p.m. on March 8. Two bullets ripped through his liver and lungs as he was running away from the sidewalk leading into the Andrew Adkins Housing Project. He was pronounced dead at 11:35 p.m.

At the funeral, family and friends described Hargrow as a quiet man, quick to smile but reluctant to speak. His mother says that all the Hargrow men are that way, stoic teddy bears. He lived his whole life in a red brick townhouse on Buchanan Street, near the King Street Metro station. He attended Jefferson-Houston Elementary School, Hammond Middle School and T.C. Williams High School, where his parents met a generation before.

"He had a lot of friends, but you always saw him by himself," said cousin Gerald Mickey. "I guess he was kind of a loner. But everybody knew him."

He liked playing football and enjoyed talking about cars, especially Ford Crown Victorias and Pontiac Bonnevilles. He was good at video games, and he liked to teach his cousins how to beat the computer. After he turned 21, he liked to go out to nightclubs in Northeast D.C.

"People knew that he came from a good home," said his grandmother, Jacqueline Hargrow. "I would always see people in the neighborhood and they would always tell me how polite Cory was and how he would always say hello to them on the street."

ERIC JONES took the stand to testify on his own behalf on last week on Tuesday, saying that he did not kill his best friend. He recounted the last few hours of his time with Hargrow, drinking cognac and selling crack on Queen Street.

After eating at McDonald's, they were standing on the corner of North Fayette and Wythe Street with a friend known as "Big Youngin." That's when Jones said he saw a group of five strangers approaching, walking west on Wythe Street. They turned the corner and started walking north on Fayette.

Then "Big Youngin" got a call on his cell phone and left to get some "blunts," street slang for marijuana-laced cigars.

Jones testified that after "Big Youngin" left, they walked toward "the cut," an area in the middle of the 700 block of North Fayette where a sidewalk leads into the Andrew Adkins Housing Project. That's when he says the group of five strangers approached from within the project, through the cut and toward the street.

"Y'all niggers know what time it is," he testified that one of them said before producing a gun. Jones said that he and Hargrow began running away at that point.

"I didn't want to be shot, and I didn't want to be robbed," Jones said. "That's why I ran."

He said he heard a bullet whiz past his head as he was running away. According to the defense theory of the case, this is how a bullet ended up in a car parked across the street. Jones testified that he was overcome with grief when he arrived at the hospital that night and realized that his friend was dead. Five days later, he was arrested while leaving Hargrow's funeral.

"I can't understand why this is happening to me," he said in court. "I did not kill my friend."

THE COMMONWEALTH put together a case that was based on what it called "good, old-fashioned eyewitness testimony." The prosecutor described the five men that Jones said he saw as "ghosts," demanding that the two eyewitnesses to the shooting were "brave citizens" who risked retribution for their testimony.

"Ladies and gentlemen, this is an eyewitness case," Porter told the jury. "Four shots, two in the back, one gun, one shooter — that's what this case is about."

Tina Williams was one of the witnesses who said she saw Jones shoot Hargrow. She testified that she could clearly see the crime from her window in the housing project, adding that she saw Hargrow slowly dying on the sidewalk after being shot.

"He didn't deserve to die," Williams testified.

She said that she saw several men standing around the cut when the crime happened, adding that the man who shot Hargrow was wearing a black pea coat. This testimony later became crucial in the jury room.

Evette Jenkins was the other witness who said she saw Jones murder Hargrow. She said that she was on her way home from a party when she walked past a group of men having a disagreement.

"I saw the fire from the gun, so I must have turned around," Duncan testified. "I saw Eric shoot C Bear."

Duncan admitted that she had been drinking that night, and said that she could not remember whether she had smoked anything. She testified that the man who shot Hargrow was wearing a jacket with fur around the collar. This matched the jacket admitted into evidence, but the juror who refused to convict said that she discounted this testimony.

"She couldn't remember if she smoked anything that night?" the juror asked.

THE DEFENSE argued that all the witnesses said they saw other men standing around the crime scene, so the commonwealth's argument that Jones saw "ghosts" wasn't credible.

"They are ghosts because the commonwealth hasn't found them," the defense attorney said in his closing argument. "The witnesses said that they saw different things at different times. None of them really saw the shooting."

The commonwealth plans to bring the case again as soon as it can schedule another trial. Judge Jamborsky, a retired judge from Fairfax who is filling in for the Alexandria Circuit Court, will return to preside over that trial as well.