Closing arguments complete in John Clayton Owens capital murder trial, jury to get case

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John Clayton Owens and his attorney, Brian Clark, during a recent motion hearing in Madison County Circuit Court.

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) — The fate of John Clayton Owens, charged with capital murder, will soon be in the hands of a jury that saw one of its number kicked out for sleeping Tuesday.

The jury included 14 members – including two alternates – but shortly after the lunch break, Madison County Circuit Judge Alison Austin ordered the courtroom briefly emptied, conferred with a female juror and then dismissed her from jury service.

It appeared to be the second time the juror was found sleeping in the trial that began last week.

The case then continued with both sides pushing hard to discredit the other side’s version of events in a case where Owens could face the death penalty.

Prosecutors Bill Starnes and Tim Gann argued that Owens was a liar and a thief and that he strangled 91-year-old Doris Richardson while burglarizing her Bide-a-wee Drive home in August 2011.

Owens, who did yard work and other chores occasionally for Richardson, lived with his aunt and uncle in the  house next door.

Both assistant district attorneys said while they didn’t have DNA or fingerprint evidence showing Owens was in Richardson’s home on the night she was killed, his statements to police, and his later calls from jail, told jurors everything they needed to know.

Gann said Owens’ police interview with veteran investigator Charlie Gray – where Owens eventually and reluctantly described different rooms in her home where he stole objects – put Owens at the scene of the crime. Gann said it was a road map of the crime scene.

Owens said he stole items from Richardson’s house, but insisted he’d done so about a week before her death.

Starnes told jurors not only did Owens lie about stealing guns from the home and about when he met his uncle the morning after the killing, his silences helped betray him.

Starnes noted that in the police interview Gray eventually urges Owens to “man up” and admit that he’d killed Richardson. A three and a half-minute silence followed, then Owens said he just stole property.

Starnes told jurors that 91-year-old Doris Richardson was still vibrant, she drove, dressed up each day and looked forward to her hair appointments on Friday.

“The last thing she saw, she was staring in the face of a man, who has hands around her neck, the man she paid to mow her lawn, John Clayton Owens,” Starnes said.

But defense attorney Brian Clark argued the state had “nothing” for evidence that put Owens in Richardson’s house the night she was killed.

Clark said guns that were at the crime scene were not fingerprinted, other surfaces were not checked for DNA and gloves and clothing from Owens’ home were taken by investigators but never tested for Richardson’s DNA.

Clark said Owens’ claim that he had burglarized the house a week before was supported by testimony and phone records that showed him trying to sell two pistols he’d taken from the home. He said prosecutors didn’t like those facts and instead insisted that jurors consider “negative inferences” like a lack of DNA results doesn’t mean Owens’ DNA wasn’t in the house.

Clark also challenged the account of Owens’ uncle Tommy, who said he found boxes from Richardson’s house on an outdoor table on the morning after Richardson’s body was found. He and a friend then went in Owens’ room, he testified, and found a box with more items from next door.

Clark pointed out that Huntsville Police Department investigators had been through the backyard the night before and didn’t find anything.

He told jurors the jewelry boxes and other items taken from Richardson’s home included a box with containing paper with the combination to her safe. The perfect thing to link Owens to the crime, Clark said mockingly, and left by the alleged killer just a few feet from police tape set up around Richardson’s house.

He said Owens wasn’t guilty of killing Richardson and investigators hadn’t done enough to follow the evidence in the case. He said Owens knew Richardson’s schedule, that her daughter would pick her up each night after work and they’d go off to dinner.

“Why in the world would he go in there, when she’s home? It was somebody who didn’t know her schedule,” Clark argued. “And we need a big for the evidence that the state didn’t test.”

The jury will be given instructions in the morning and sent off to deliberate. The remaining alternate will be identified at that time and will almost certainly be asked to remain available in case one of the 12 jurors becomes ill or has other problems.

If the jury convicts Owens, the penalty phase would then begin wherein jurors would be instructed to decide whether Owens would get life in prison or the death penalty.

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