A 33-year-old Missouri man was found guilty of murder Wednesday for the July 2010 killing of an elderly couple, in a case Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster took the unusual step of personally assisting.
Jesse Driskill was found guilty of killing 82-year-old Johnnie Wilson and 76-year-old Coleen Wilson at their rural house in western Laclede County. The couple had just celebrated their 59th wedding anniversary.
Jurors returned the verdict late Wednesday afternoon after deliberating about 3.5 hours. Driskill stood with his attorneys while the verdict was read but needed to be excused partway through. After a delay to allow defense lawyers to meet with him, the remainder of the verdict was read without his presence in the courtroom.
No direct explanation was given in court. Driskill's attorneys have said earlier he has panic attacks.
The verdict means Driskill could receive the death penalty. The sentencing portion of the trial is scheduled to start Thursday. In addition to two counts of first-degree murder, Driskill also was found guilty of forcible rape, forcible sodomy, first-degree burglary and five counts of armed criminal action.
Koster's direct involvement in the courtroom is atypical but not unprecedented. During the trial, he presented evidence and offered a final argument before jurors began deliberating. Koster is working with Laclede County Prosecuting Attorney Jon Morris.
The attorney general said Wednesday prosecutors provided proof beyond a reasonable doubt and that the Wilsons died less than 10 feet from each another.
"They were there for each other for 59 years through thick and thin and until they reached a moment when they could not be there for each other anymore because of him, because of Jesse Driskill," Koster said.
Authorities say the couple was covered by bedding, a fire was set and their vehicle was found ablaze along a road. Prosecutors said both were shot and that Coleen Wilson died from a gunshot wound and that Johnnie Wilson died from asphyxiation by a plastic bag in this throat.
Assistant public defender Sharon Turlington raised questions about the credibility of several of the prosecution's witnesses, telling jurors during her closing argument "there are many reasons to doubt what those witnesses told you." She also said there was little physical evidence: no fingerprints, no blood on Driskill's clothing and no gunshot residue.
Prosecutors said his DNA was found on Coleen Wilson. Turlington questioned how DNA samples were handled.
Koster, a Democrat, has been personally involved in several cases since becoming attorney general in 2009. He previously served in the state Senate, was the Cass County prosecutor from 1995 to 2005 and has said he is making preparations to run for governor in 2016.
Among Koster's previous cases is a 2009 Medicaid fraud case in which a dentist pleaded guilty and a 2010 murder case in Jackson County. In 2011, he represented the state for sentencing of a Fredericktown police officer and Boy Scouts leader who pleaded guilty to 22 counts related to sexual abuse of minors.