A Calhoun County jury found Jovon Gaston guilty Tuesday of capital murder in the killing of a Wellborn Elementary School teacher.
Gaston, Nick Smith, and Tyrone Thompson were charged with capital murder in the 2011 kidnapping, robbery, and stabbing death of Kevin Thompson. Smith was convicted and sentenced to death in a July 2013 trial. Thompson, who is seeking funds for a mental health expert, is still awaiting trial.
On Tuesday, the sixth day of Gaston’s trial, prosecutors began their closing arguments by defining the standards necessary to find a defendant guilty of capital murder. To be convicted of capital murder, the state must prove that the defendant intentionally killed the victim or intentionally aided in the killing, Calhoun County District Attorney Brian McVeigh said during his arguments.
While Gaston’s DNA was not present on any of the evidence and his fingerprints were not present in the vehicle according to testimony Monday, McVeigh said the lack of evidence also tells a story.
“Did you see him touch the glass in the car or the window in the car on the video,” McVeigh asked the jurors. “No, because his hands were on the gun forcing Kevin Thompson to give up his PIN number.”
McVeigh continued to point out instances in which the evidence suggested Gaston was not involved in the murder.
“We don’t see Jovon Gaston in other surveillance videos because he is watching Kevin Thompson,” McVeigh said. “Somebody is holding him, somebody is making him comply, one can only surmise that is Jovon Gaston.”
Investigators never recovered a pair of muddy boots, belonging to Gaston, that Taesha Pulliam’s brother testified to seeing in her house. Pulliam, Gaston’s girlfriend and mother of his son, testified to her brother asking about the boots, but she never saw them herself. Gaston testified in his interview with police to never stepping out of the vehicle at the scene of where Kevin Thompson’s body was left. Muddy clothes and shoes belonging to Thompson and Smith were recovered but no clothing of Gaston’s was taken during investigations.
McVeigh emphasized that during the three hour and 45 minute interview with police, Gaston tried to distance himself from each scene.
“It was only after the investigator told him they had video placing him in the car at the bank that Gaston admitted to being present,” McVeigh said. “He said he wasn’t at the scene where Kevin Thompson’s body was found, but where are those work boots? Why didn’t he turn those in to prove he wasn’t there? Because they had mud on them, because he was there.”
Gaston’s defense attorneys, David Johnston and Tom Harmon, pointed out apparent gaps in the evidence.
“There is not one piece of evidence or one witness that proves he killed Kevin Thompson or had the intent to aid in the killing of Kevin Thompson,” Johnston said during closing arguments.
Johnston emphasized that while Gaston is guilty of kidnapping, robbery, and felony murder, he is not guilty of capital murder. If a person committed the act of first-degree robbery or kidnapping and caused the death of an individual, then he or she is guilty of a felony murder.
“When that man was confronted with the reality that Kevin Thompson was going to be killed, he said, ‘No, not me. I’m not doing that,’” Johnston said. “The evidence is stubborn and it shows he’s guilty of felony murder, but the evidence is equally as stubborn when it doesn’t show he committed capital murder.”
Calhoun County Circuit Judge Bud Turner restated to the jury before deliberation what the prosecution and defense argued during their closing arguments.
“To be found guilty of capital murder, there needs to be proof beyond a reasonable doubt that he intentionally killed or aided in the killing,” Turner said. “If you find the defendant not guilty of capital murder, you will then determine his guilt or innocence in a felony murder charge.”
The jury found Gaston guilty of two counts of capital murder, one involving kidnapping and the other involving robbery.
The state was prepared to begin the sentencing phase of the trial immediately but the defense scheduled witnesses for Wednesday morning. Sentencing will begin at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday. For capital murder, Gaston can be sentenced to either life imprisonment or be given the death penalty.