After five hours of deliberations, a Maries County jury, moved to Phelps County for the trial, acquitted James D. Loughridge, 44, on Thursday of a charge of 2nd-degree murder.
Loughridge, of Rolla, had been charged in the Jan. 11, 2011 shooting death of his 21-year-old stepson, Jamie Guill.
The jury did convict Loughridge on one count of unlawful use of a weapon through intoxication and negligence. The maximum penalty for the unlawful use charge is four years in the Missouri Department of Corrections. The jury acquitted Loughridge on a second count of unlawful use of a weapon in an angry or threatening manner.
Under the instructions given to the jury, the jurors could have convicted Loughridge of the 2nd-degree murder charge after convicting him on one or both of the unlawful use charges. But the jury did not vote for a murder conviction.
“We were disappointed in the verdict,” said Prosecuting Attorney John Beger after Judge Tracy Storie read the verdict. “We thought the evidence supported a conviction on the murder charge. But we respect the efforts of the jury.”
Loughridge and his defense attorneys, Kris Crews and Patrick Horsefield, did not comment after the verdict.
Storie set Oct. 30, 2012 at 9 a.m., in Phelps County Circuit Court, as the sentencing date. Storie continued Loughridge’s bond, and he remains free.
During the deliberations, the jury sent three notes to the judge. The first requested the jury be able to examine the Ruger .22 rifle which fired the shot that killed Guill. The gun was provided for the jury’s examination.
The second note requested the jury be allowed to view the videotaped interview done with Loughridge the night of the shooting, after he had been arrested. The jury was allowed to view the interview in the courtroom with only a bailiff present to operate the video equipment
The third note asked Storie if the jury was permitted to convict Loughridge on a charge other than 2nd-degree murder. The note also asked the definition of “angry and threatening.” Storie sent back a note saying the jury should be guided by the instructions given it before closing arguments, and that no further instructions would be given.
Loughridge was charged after Guill was fatally shot in the head in Loughridge’s pickup off Route F. Loughridge, GuilL and a friend, Corey Archer, were returning home after a day of drinking when Archer got sick and asked Loughridge to pull over so he could throw up.
After Archer got out of the truck and threw up, he tried to get back into the truck. What happened next was a matter of dispute. Archer said when he tried to get into the truck, the barrel of Loughridge’s rifle was “in his chest.”
Archer testified that Guill told him to get into the truck. When Archer said he couldn ‘t because he had a gun in his chest, Guill, according to Archer, grabbed the barrel of the gun and twisted it away from Archer’s chest. Then, Archer said, the gun “went bang,” and Guill fell over dead in the ditch.
In his closing argument, Beger stressed that Archer, in a video interview the day after the shooting, said that Loughridge was holding the gun, and that he thought Loughridge was “joking around.” He also cited the testimony of Sean Dietz, a bartender at the Locker Room bar, that Loughridge drank 11 12-ounce beers and two shots of whiskey the night of the shooting.
Loughridge’s defense attorneys said that the state did not “have a shred of evidence” that Loughridge was angry or threatening toward Guill the day of the shooting. But, Beger said, the act of pointing a loaded gun at someone, “whether they are smiling or scowling, is a threatening act.”
Krews, in his closing argument, stressed that under oath, Archer denied that Loughridge was holding the gun.