DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Jurors in the Antonio Cochran murder trial will try again Thursday to reach a verdict in the case that could send him to prison for the rest of his life. They deliberated for about four and a half hours before stopping for the night.
Cochran is accused of capital murder in the October 2015 abduction murder of 18-year-old Zoe Hastings. According to investigators, Hastings had stopped to return a Redbox movie on her way to church. Prosecutors claim Cochran abducted her and drove to a nearby creek bed where she was later murdered.
During closing arguments, lead prosecutor Pat Kirlin often referred to an alleged sexual assault that also occurred… telling jurors that Cochran was guilty of “kidnapping. Rape. Robbery… in a matter of minutes.”
But, defense attorney Paul Johnson reminded jurors that the medical examiner found no evidence of sexual assault and that the defendant is not charged with sexual assault. According to Johnson, the issue of rape is only being mentioned to “inflame” the jury.
The eight woman and four men have much to consider. Prosecutor Justin Lord drew on the emotional aspects of the case, calling it a “nightmare” for the Hastings family and asking the jury to use “common sense” to reach a verdict of guilty. Lord focused heavily on the cell phone geomapping in his portion of the closing.
“The only time that Antonio Cochran’s phone is ever hitting the tower by the Walgreens is on the date and time that Zoe is kidnapped and killed,” said Lord. Prosecutors also honed in on the defendant’s DNA recovered from the handle of the murder weapon.
Defense attorney Paul Johnson conceded that his client’s DNA was on the handle of the knife; but, insisted that Cochran could have handled the knife while he was working at a local movie theater where such items are often found. Johnson also stressed that none of Cochran’s fingerprints were recovered from the minivan, and there was no other physical evidence to tie him to the violent, bloody scene.
That’s significant because two prosecution witnesses told the jury that a man walked up and grabbed Hastings’ door, before climbing in and driving away. She was found with her throat cut in a nearby creek bed the following morning.
During his closing, Johnson told the jurors “I know this case is going to stay with you for a long time. The popular thing to do today would be to go back there and convict. I’m going to ask you to do the thing you told me you would do: make the hard decision, do what is right and return a verdict of not guilty.”
As jurors deliberated this afternoon, they sent three questions to the judge. One note asked for a defense exhibit — a picture showing the Walgreens where Hastings disappeared. A second note was to ask a question about mitochondrial DNA. A third asked about the timeframe of police interviews with the men who would later become prosecution witnesses.
The defense has repeatedly worked to discredit the testimony of Gary Whitman, a career criminal who admitted to using meth. Johnson questioned whether it would have been possible for Whitman to hear and see what he claimed to have witnessed from his location across the street from the Walgreens.
The jury will resume deliberations Thursday morning at 9 a.m.