Jack Brown and his defendant, Sharp, watch along with the courtroom Friday, the recording of her statement in 2008. Photo by: Luisa Porter Buy this photo.
September 30, 2011 10:33:00 PM
STARKVILLE -- The tension in Leslie Sharp's shoulders released and her family exhaled Friday when the not guilty verdict was read in her murder trial.
After three-and-a-half hours of deliberation, an Oktibbeha County jury found Sharp, 22, acted in self-defense when she shot and killed Christopher Cole on Nov. 10, 2008 on Kelly Road.
Sharp shot and killed Cole, who was 20 at the time, following a confrontation between him, his girlfriend and another girl he was pursuing a relationship with. Sharp was in a vehicle with the two girls who were involved with Cole.
Sharp said she shot Cole seven times after he pulled out a revolver and fired a shot. Cole died at the scene.
Sharp was initially tried in May, but a juror got sick during deliberation and needed to be hospitalized, prompting Sixteenth Circuit Court Judge Lee Howard to declare a mistrial.
Sharp's family declined comment Friday.
Unlike the first trial, the jury had the option to find Sharp guilty of manslaughter if it could not reach a verdict on the murder charge.
The crux of the trial was whether Cole threatened Sharp or any of the other three girls in the car and prompted Sharp to get out and fire.
The three eyewitnesses testified that they never felt threatened by Cole, despite saying he fired his weapon and was yelling and cursing at them for confronting him.
The defense's case was strengthened by the testimony of forensic pathologist Dr. Steven Hayne, who concluded, based on the original autopsy report and Sharp's testimony, that the first bullets fired hit Cole in the front of his body, while the two entrance wounds to his back were among the last to occur.
During rebuttal, prosecutor Rhonda Hayes-Ellis recalled forensic pathologist, Dr. Adele Lewis, who performed the autopsy on Cole's body. Lewis said Wednesday that there was no way to determine which shot was fired first because of the multiple variables involved -- the position of the person shooting the gun and how the gun was angled.
Lewis stuck to that finding Friday.
"There's an infinite number of scenarios in which you can pose the shooter," Lewis said. "An honest and competent pathologist would not be able to tell you which order the shots were fired and the position of the person. It's not scientifically possible."
During closing arguments, Sharp's defense team focused on Hayne's finding, how it fit Sharp's testimony, and how the firing order contradicted the testimony of eyewitnesses. Nicole Transchina, Kayla Huffman and Alissandra Inzunza all testified that Sharp shot Cole in the back while he was walking away from them and back to his truck.
On Thursday, the prosecution moved to have evidence of Sharp's initial statement the night of the shooting admitted for rebuttal. After recessing early, Howard returned Friday and, citing case law, denied the request because the defense would have no way to address it.
But defense attorney Jack Brown opened the door for Hayes-Ellis to admit the video as evidence after he surprisingly submitted the transcript from the video. Brown wanted to note the errors in the transcription and only asked two questions to former Starkville Police Detective Maurice Johnson, who conducted the interview.
Howard allowed Hayes-Ellis to admit the video, which the prosecution used to show the contrast in Sharp's demeanor and highlight her differing accounts of the shooting. Sharp, at different points of the statement, gave varying accounts of how many shots Cole fired and when he tried to fire at her. Sharp eventually requested to write her statement for Johnson so she could get her story straight.
She remained adamant throughout the entire hour-and-a-half video that she acted in self-defense.
"He was firing," Sharp said, "trying to kill us all."
Sharp is the daughter of Oktibbeha County Sheriff's Office Deputy Rick Sharp.
everyvoice commented at 9/30/2011 11:18:00 PM:
It is so sad that in 2011 justice still can not be served. 3 witness accounts that say this man turned his back to walk away and she shoots to kill... 7 times might I add. That really sounds like "self-defense" to me. Really? Nobody else felt threated but her. And she conviently brought her gun, which she forgot and went back home to get. Sounds pre-meditated to me. However, I digress! I guess money and power can get you off from murder. Its sad someone like Troy Davis couldn't hire a forensic pathologist and have a Sherriff as a daddy. Maybe he wouldn't be dead right now. But she should know this, God hates ugliness and she will have to live with herself and so will her family because they know the truth. Karma is a booger and in the Bible it states that you will reap what you sow. I wonder what she will be reaping for murder?
sassy commented at 10/1/2011 5:01:00 AM:
I don't understand why she wasn't found guilty of manslaughter at the very least! Did this jury take lessons from Casey Anthony's jury?
orphanbully commented at 10/1/2011 4:42:00 PM:
Wasn't Stephen Hayne the same pathologist who testified in the Tyler Edmonds trial that he could tell by looking at the victim's wounds that two hands held the gun? Props to Adele Lewis for calling him out.
richard_beene commented at 10/2/2011 7:32:00 AM:
Really....all 3 eyewitnesses changed their testimony after being threatened by various members of the Cole family! What happened to the felony charges against the sister for intimidation of a witness, after threatening the girlfriend? MONEY...a deputy sheriff doesn't make much money....geezzzz. Kayla Huffman was the best witness the defense had!!!! With the numerous times she changed her testimony, what did you expect the jury to find??? The girlfriend and Kayla Huffman are the reason that young man is dead. As they testified too, they were laughing at him until he got furious and pulled out the gun.
richard_beene commented at 10/2/2011 7:38:00 AM:
Oh, by the way.......God also doesn't like those that bear false witness!!!!!!
raider commented at 10/2/2011 7:57:00 AM:
It doesn't sound credible when witnesses come in and testify that they never felt threatened even though the individual was yelling and cursing at them and pulled a gun and fired it. As a juror, that would make me question everything that they said and question the prosecutions whole case since these were prosecution witnesses.
Based on the news accounts, Ms Sharp's story sounded more credible than the others.
toquinn55 commented at 10/2/2011 4:44:00 PM:
How can several shots to the back be labeled self defense? When you shoot someone in the back, they are turned away from you. It doesn't matter what the witnesses say, shots fired in the back is not a threat...What I can't understand is how she was found not guilty..It really makes you wonder about the justice system. To take a life, in this manner, is and should be against the law. She will have to answer to a higher power one day and self defense will not excuse her. I hope the district attorney's office appeals the decision.
bravesfan commented at 10/2/2011 7:59:00 PM:
Prosecutors can not appeal decisions.
thompson1928 commented at 10/2/2011 10:09:00 PM:
If you were expecting justice you were looking in the wrong place.
local commented at 10/4/2011 11:30:00 AM:
You have to be the dumbest people allowed to access the internet! Can you not read what transpired during the case. If some moron had a gun AND had shot it near me I "would fire until the threat was eliminated" just like I was trained. Again, you are morons.
lolababy commented at 10/4/2011 3:00:00 PM:
Ok everyvoice, if none of them felt threatened why even bring along a girl, who just happens to have a gun, that has NOTHING to do with their drama along with them? And as raider said, really someone yelled and cussed at them, even pulled a gun and shot but they didn't feel threatened, really? Sounds like someone might be feeling some guilt over getting their boyfriend killed over some childish games and changed their account of the story....
local commented at 10/4/2011 3:58:00 PM:
@lolababy- So you have not read that this guy attempted to fire 5 times other that the already fired round? You are a moron and should not comment on things that you do0 not know all about. Canadian
thompson1928 commented at 10/4/2011 8:18:00 PM:
My above comment was not directed solely at this case but at many others. "Justice" is for sale in Mississippi, it is either going to be about who you know or how much money you have.
lolababy commented at 10/5/2011 6:06:00 PM:
@ local apparently you are the moron b/c you did not understand anything I said.... IT doesn't matter how many times he fired his gun I was pointing out how could someone in that situation not feel threatened you idiot. For goodness sake why don't you read before you comment....
1. Man shot on 7th Avenue Tuesday afternoon COLUMBUS & LOWNDES COUNTY
2. City, store owner clash after Tuesday shooting COLUMBUS & LOWNDES COUNTY
3. Local pilot gets 10 months in British jail for alcohol COLUMBUS & LOWNDES COUNTY
4. CPD makes arrest in Princess Theater shooting case COLUMBUS & LOWNDES COUNTY
5. Starkville aldermen sending potential case against former officer to DA's office STARKVILLE & OKTIBBEHA COUNTY