Leader Blues

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

TOP STORY >> Murder trial begins in LR

By ERIC FRANCIS
Special to The Leader

A jury was seated and an array of experts took the stand in Little Rock on Tuesday in the double-murder trial of Daud Amir Jones of Jacksonville, charged with the shooting death of his girlfriend Meloney Graham, who was 17 weeks pregnant.

But the most powerful testimony will likely take place today as members of her family take the stand – in at least one case to testify to Jones’ good character.

Jones, facing two counts of first-degree murder, spent the day quietly between two deputy public defenders. He was dressed in a black suit, dark red shirt and black tie, while chief Pulaski County Public Defender Bill Simpson handled his defense.

Deputy prosecuting attorneys Kelly Ward and Will Jones, called on Jacksonville police officers and Arkansas Crime Lab experts to make their case.

By the time the jury was seated, the directions each team of lawyers intended to take was clear. Prosecutor Jones kept asserting to the jury pool, “Actions speak louder than words.” Simpson continually asked them, “Can you hold the state to its high burden of truth?”

Daud Jones allegedly shot and killed his girlfriend at their home on Pike Avenue during an argument over whether he was cheating on her. In a recorded statement to police, Jones claimed it was an accident – that Graham had taken his gun out of a closet during the argument, he took it away from her and then dropped it, whereupon it fired and the bullet struck her in the back of the head.

Prosecutors tried to debunk that version of events by calling upon a firearms expert from the crime lab, Steve Hargis, who handled the inspection of the .380 semi-automatic pistol used in the shooting. Hargis testified that he struck the gun with a rubber mallet in several places to simulate a drop to the floor.

“It never fired when struck,” Hargis said.

In cross-examination, Simpson asked why Hargis had not actually dropped the gun during the tests; to avoid damaging it, Hargis replied.

Simpson asked Hargis if there was a chance that the gun could go off if dropped, to which Hargis replied yes, but “that would be a very slim chance.”

Dr. Frank Peretti, who performed the autopsy, testified that the wound made by the bullet was “a nice, round hole,” which he said indicated straight-on entry.

Challenged by Simpson as to whether such a wound could be from a bullet fired by a dropped gun, Peretti was adamant: “If the gun was dropped, the entry wound would be different,” he said, because it was likely the angle of entry would not be straight.

But he also acknowledged that he could not predict the path of the bullet or position of Graham’s body at the time of the shooting.

At deadline, the court was still listening to the audio recording of the statement Jones made to Jacksonville police hours after the murder.

The jury consists of seven women (three black, four white) and five men (three black, two white). Testimony was expected to end today.