Wednesday, July 8, 2020

List Series: Murder Trials with Shocking Defense Claims

During a trial, the defendant's defense team is tasked with creating reasonable doubt that their client committed the charged crime. In murder trials, a common defense tactic involves pointing the blame towards another individual. Defense teams also may argue that their client is not guilty of the degree of the charged crime. For example, a person charged with first-degree murder might have their defense team argue that they are actually guilty of second-degree murder or manslaughter. There are many murder cases in which the defense puts forth a shocking defense that either seems far-fetched or forensically impossible. Below is a list of seven such cases in which the defendant uses a shocking defense argument during the trial.


7. The Murder of Christian Aguilar
ex girlfriend of Pedro Bravo says 'He kind of tricked us all, into ...
(image source: Dailymail)
Pedro Bravo (pictured right) went to trial in 2014 for the 2012 murder of Christian Aguilar (pictured left). Pedro and Christian were both 18 at the time the murder took place. The two were close friends in high school, but during the fall of 2012, Pedro grew extremely jealous when he learned that Christian had started dating Pedro's ex-girlfriend, Erika Friman (pictured above with Christian). Prosecutors stated that Pedro's jealousy over the relationship, and his desire to win Erika back, were the main motives for Christian's murder. 

There was plenty of evidence to prove the prosecution's theory. Surveillance footage proves that Pedro and Christian had gone to a Wal-Mart in Gainesville together on the day Christian was last seen alive. Additionally, Christian's blood was found in Pedro's car, and his backpack was found in Pedro's bedroom. A journal in Pedro's bedroom included entries describing how he desperately wanted Christian out of the picture so he could win Erika back. Pedro took the stand during the trial to try and refute the prosecution's claims. He acknowledged that he was with Christian on the day he disappeared, and that the two of them had a physical altercation inside his car. However, Pedro claimed that Christian eventually got out of the car and Pedro left him on the side of the road. Pedro also claimed that Christian was completely conscious when Pedro left him. 

Not only did Pedro try to argue that he did not kill Christian, he also tried to argue that the injuries Christian sustained during their fight were not responsible for his death either. The latter claim actually turned out to be true--as an autopsy revealed that Christian died from strangulation. However, if Pedro was not the person to strangle Christian, that would mean Christian encountered a completely separate individual after getting out of Pedro's car on the evening of his disappearance. This was quite unlikely, as the autopsy also revealed that Christian likely died the night he vanished. Additionally, Pedro made numerous inconsistent statements to police following Christian's disappearance. The prosecution argued that, if Pedro were truly innocent, he would not have had any reason to lie about his interactions with Christian. 

The jury ultimately ended up agreeing with the prosecution, and Pedro was found guilty. He was sentenced to life in prison. [read more]

6. The Murders of Tammy Jo Parker & Bryan Capnerhurst

Brett Parker (pictured middle) was arrested for killing both his wife, Tammy Jo Parker (pictured left) and his business associate Bryan Capnerhurst (pictured right) in July 2012. The murders had taken place three months earlier, on April 13th, 2012. However, on the day they occurred, Brett told police that he killed Bryan in self-defense after Bryan had shot and killed Tammy inside the Parker's Irmo, South Carolina home. However, an investigation into the incident revealed a different story. 

The investigation revealed that Brett and Bryan were both involved in an illegal sports gambling operation, and both were in massive debt. Brett also allegedly owed money to Bryan, and Bryan told his wife that he was worried Brett would turn violent if confronted about it. Additionally, the investigators also found evidence that Brett wanted out of his marriage with Tammy. He had been sending several flirtatious messages to other women prior to Tammy's death. Brett also had taken a lucrative life insurance policy out on Tammy, which he immediately tried to collect once Tammy had passed. These findings, amongst other evidence, eventually led to Brett's arrest and subsequent murder charges.

At the trial, the prosecution stated that Brett's motives were to relieve himself of debt and to free himself from his marriage. Brett's defense team maintained that it was Bryan immediately shot Tammy upon entering the Parker's home, and that Brett subsequently shot him in self-defense. The prosecution was able to refute these claims. They presented evidence that Brett shot and killed Tammy before Bryan even arrived at their home, and Bryan was shot shortly after showing up. It was also revealed that Brett’s claim that Bryan immediately began to shoot as he entered the home was false as well, as surveillance footage from the Parker’s home showed that Bryan entered the house a full 11 minutes before 911 was called.

Despite this forensic evidence, the defense team still tried to convince the jury that Brett's original claims were true--but they were unsuccessful. A jury ended up convicting Brett for both murders and he was given two life-sentences. [read more]

5. The Murder of Kailee McMullen
True Case Files: The Murder of Kailee McMullen

Ronald McMullen Jr. (pictured right) shot and murdered his 22 year-old daughter Kailee McMullen (pictured left) inside his Norman, Oklahoma home on June 29th, 2017. Ronald told both the 911 dispatcher and first responders on the scene that Kailee accidentally shot herself with a wheel gun while playing with it. The first responders noted that Ronald had behaved strangely upon their arrival--he repeatedly tried to wipe up blood from the scene and began laying on the ground and covering himself with dirt in front of police officers. 

Forensic evidence revealed that it was unlikely that Kailee shot herself. The gunpowder residue found on Kailee’s face indicated that the gun was fired from around 18 inches away from her face. If Kailee had fired the gun herself, it could not have been more than 14 inches away. Additionally, there was evidence that somebody had tried to clean up the scene before police arrived. Police were able to confirm that there was a gap of time between Kailee’s death and the time they were called, because Ronald reportedly called Kailee’s mother before calling 911. In fact, Kailee’s mother was already on the scene when paramedics arrived, attempting to administer CPR to her daughter.

Ronald was arrested just days after Kailee's death. At his trial, many people testified that Ronald was  a controlling father with abusive tendencies. A friend testified that Kailee said Ronald sexually abused her in 2009. Friends also testified that, in the months leading up to Kailee’s death, Kailee had confided that her father had begun sexually assaulting her again. Testimony revealed that Ronald also allegedly slapped Kailee in the face during an argument two months before her death.

Ronald's defense team maintained that Kailee had shot herself on accident. They argued that the shooting occurred while Kailee was playing with the gun and Ronald attempted to take it away from her. These claims were unable to convince the jury, though--and Ronald was ultimately found guilty. [read more]

4. The Murder of James Barry
Woman fatally stabs on-again, off-again boyfriend with butcher ...

James Barry (pictured right) was stabbed to death inside his mother's Loxahatchee, Florida home on November 17th, 2016. Just three days after his death, James' ex-girlfriend Melanie Eam (pictured left) and charged with his murder. Once Melanie was taken into custody, she admitted to detectives that she stabbed James to death after he broke up with her via text message. Despite this confession, though, Melanie ended up pleading not guilty to second degree murder.

While at trial, Melanie's defense team pointed the finger at the only other person who was inside the  house on the night of James' murder: Guy Hand--the boyfriend of James' mother. Guy told police that he awoke that night to the sound of James screaming. He ran into James’ bedroom and found him fatally wounded on his bed. It was clear that James had been stabbed, and the assailant had already fled the scene. Guy attempted to CPR to no avail; James died before the paramedics were able to get to him.

Melanie's defense said that something completely different happened. The defense team claimed that Melanie and Guy got into an argument inside the home that night, and that James tried to intervene. They argued that James stepped in between Melanie and Guy during their altercation, and that Guy accidentally stabbed James to death. The defense also pointed their finger at Guy because he reportedly moved the murder weapon after police arrived on the scene. Guy stated he found the 13 and ½ inch butcher knife on the bedside table in James’ room, and he moved it so nobody else would get hurt. He also reportedly washed one of his blood-soaked hands.

Despite Melanie's confession to the crime, the defense's claims that Guy was actually the one responsible for James' death likely created reasonable doubt in the minds of jurors, as a mistrial was declared in September 2018. However, Melanie was retried in early January 2019, and this time around she was found guilty. She was sentenced to 50 years in prison. [read more]

3. The Murder of Candice Parchment
Discovery of murdered Candice Parchment's diary that recorded ...
(image source: Dailymail)
Candice Parchment vanished from her mother's Forest Park, Georgia home during April 2010. Months later, in December 2010, Candice's body was found hidden underneath a mattress in a wooded area near her home. She had been stabbed and strangled to death. The case unfortunately went cold after discovering her body, until a year later when Candice's mother found her diary. In diary entry from January 2010, just a few months before she vanished, Candice wrote that two 19 year-olds named Marshae Hickman and Jermaine Robinson had attacked her and attempted to rape her. 

After detectives learned about the diary, they wanted to question both Marshae and Jermaine about Candice's death. Marshae was already incarcerated on unrelated robbery charges at the time. When detectives questioned him about Candice, he eventually confessed to strangling Candice to death, but not to stabbing her. Still, Marshae was able to describe the strangling in detail--as court documents stated that "[Marshae] placed his arm around her shoulders and was trying to speak with [Candice]. He stated that he then placed her in a position where his arm was around her neck. He squeezed tightly and kept his arm there until she fell limp." Marshae was subsequently charged with murder. Jermaine, on the other hand, was charged with the attempted rape of Candice back in January 2010, but he was not charged with anything related to Candice's death.

Marshae eventually went to trial in April 2013. His defense acknowledged that Marshae confessed to killing Candice, however Marshae claimed he blacked out during the attack and does not remember the act occurring. The defense maintained that this is why Marshae cannot explain Candice's stab wounds, and that somebody else must have been present that night as well. However, it is unclear how Marshae was able to recall the details of strangling Candice and hiding her body if he had blacked out and did not remember the event. The jury ultimately ended up finding Marshae guilty on all charges as follows: murder, aggravated assault, attempted rape and concealing a death. He was sentenced to life in prison and remains behind bars today. [read more]

2. The Murder of Emma Walker

Emma Walker was only 16 years-old when she was shot to death inside her bedroom in her family's Knox County, Tennessee home on November 21st, 2016. She was found dead in her bed by her family members later that morning. Emma had been shot while she was sleeping, and it appeared that somebody had shot her from outside of the home, through the wall. Her ex-boyfriend, 18 year-old William 'Riley' Gaul was quickly identified as a suspect. Emma had recently broken up with Riley, and he was not taking the break-up well. In fact, in the days leading up to Emma's death, Riley repeatedly engaged in behavior to try and get Emma's attention. Additionally, police determined that the gun Emma had been shot with was the same gun that Riley's grandfather had reported as stolen just a day before Emma's death. Riley arrested on suspicion of murder just a day later. 

In January 2017, Riley was indicted on charges of first-degree murder, aggravated stalking, theft, tampering with evidence, reckless endangerment, employing a firearm during a dangerous felony and felony murder. He pleaded not guilty and went to trial during the spring of 2018. During the trial, Riley’s defense team claimed that Riley did not intend to kill Emma the night she died. They said that Riley was unaware that the bullet would actually travel through the wall of her house and that his original intent was to fire a shot through the wall, scare her, and then show up at at her house later as the “hero.” The prosecution claimed that Riley did, in fact, intend to kill Emma that night and later came up with the scare tactic story as a cover. The jury agreed, and Riley was found guilty on all charges. He sentenced to life with possibility of parole after a minimum of 51 years. [read more]

1. The Murder of Erin Corwin
SAN BERNARDINO: Body of Erin Corwin found; man arrested – Press ...

Christopher Lee (pictured left) murdered 19 year-old Erin Corwin at Joshua Tree National Park on June 28th, 2014. Christopher and Erin both lived on a military base in Twentynine Palms, California at the time. The two were both married to their respective spouses, but they were having an affair with each other. Shortly before Erin's murder, she learned she was pregnant--and she was sure that the baby was fathered by Christopher, and not her husband. Christopher invited Erin to go to the Joshua Tree National Park with him on the morning of June 28th, 2014---after telling her that he had a surprise for her. Erin happily accepted the invitation.

At some point during Christopher and Erin's trip, Christopher strangled Erin to death with a garrote before throwing her body down a nearby mineshaft. When Erin did not return home as planned that evening, she was reported missing by her husband Jonathan. Throughout the investigation, detectives learned about the affair between Christopher and Erin. They also learned about the possibility that Erin was pregnant with his child. Christopher was inevitably questioned, but he denied seeing Erin on the day she vanished. Just a few days later, Christopher left the Marines and then promptly moved to Alaska with his wife and daughter. 

In August 2014, investigators searched the national park and stumbled upon a mineshaft.Once they had the tools to search the 100 ft. deep mine, investigators found Erin's body. Shortly thereafter, Christopher was arrested and extradited back to California to face first-degree murder charges in Erin's case.

Christopher pleaded not guilty to the charges and went to trial in November 2016. He testified on his own behalf, and admitted to the jury that he did, in fact, strangle Erin to death with a garrote--but he claimed the murder was not premeditated. Christopher then explained to the jury that he killed Erin in the heat of the moment after Erin had confessed to him that she molested his daughter. Christopher claimed that he was sent into a fit of rage after that, so he proceeded to strangle Erin to death before disposing of her body. This was the first time such accusations had ever been raised against Erin, and many were shocked to hear about this during trial.

Still, the jury did not buy Christopher's story. He was found guilty of first-degree murder and eventually sentenced to life in prison. In 2018, Christopher appealed his conviction, but was ultimately denied. According to court documents, the appeal was denied because the court believes his defense to be untrue. The documents state, "no one ever raised a concern about Erin’s interaction with [Christopher's daughter]" during their time together. [read more]

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