It was the two words Woodie Sons, Jr. has been saying all along. It was the two words he and his family have waited to hear.
It also was two words that the family of Charles “Chuck” Maggard did not want to hear.
Sons, the former owner of the Universal Fitness Center, was found not guilty by a Powell County jury last Thursday.
Sons had been accused in the brutal beating and stabbing death of Maggard. Maggard’s body was discovered by his mother, Carol Maggard on the morning of Dec. 14, 2010. Sons was also charged with first degree robbery.
Despite the police having an alleged eyewitness, the jury believed the defense’s theory of too many doubts in the case. The defense was able to seemingly punch holes in the notion that Sons was the killer based on the fact that the evidence did not match up with that theory. The jury listened to two and a half days of testimony and deliberated for just over an hour before rendering the verdict.
State police crime lab reports indicated that there was a DNA profile on a tissue found in the back seat of Sons’ car which matched a profile on a toboggan found near Maggard’s body. Sons had told police when he was interviewed after his arrest, when asked if he was missing anything, that he had a cap missing.
However, the profile was just based on alleles found on the tissue and the cap. According to sciencedaily.com and biology-online.org an allele is a viable DNA coding that occupies a given position on a chromosome. It can control things like eye color. However, it is not as definitive as DNA samples that can match up to one particular person.
Based on the testimony of state lab employee Shannon Phelps, the profile was a mixture of other alleles and could match one in 59 people. Defense expert witness, Shanin Lodhy, a former state lab employee who has her own business, that meant a county of Powell’s size could have as many as 100 to 200 possible people that matched the profile in the mixture. Neither one could say for sure if Sons was or was not the person who the cap belonged to.
Lohdy did agree with all of Phelps findings with exception to the wording about the toboggan.
Powell Commonwealth Attorney Darrell Herald did get Lohdy to admit that she never conducted any testing of her own. Lohdy considered reading reports and reviewing pictures, videos and statements as “testing” which Herald scoffed at.
State lab reports had already indicated that Sons fingerprints were not found anywhere in the Maggard home and no blood was found in Sons car.
The eyewitness account was also an area of doubts that the defense wanted to bring out to the jury.
Testimony in the trial from the eyewitness, Paul Weaver, was challenged by public defender Miranda Stevens. Stevens got Weaver to admit on several occasions during cross examination that statements he made to police did not quite go along with what he told the court last Wednesday.
At question was Weaver’s statements about why Sons allegedly had him change his shoes. Stevens stated that Weaver first told police it was because if anyone saw them they could honestly say they were not there.
But Weaver told the jury Sons wanted him to change shoes because he was wearing Nike tennis shoes and “it was too slick” to wear those.
Stevens also challenged Weaver’s accounts as to when Sons allegedly changed his bloody clothes. In one statement to police he stated it was while they were on their way to Lexington. In another and while testifying, he stated it was at a gas station in Lexington. The two men were traveling to Texas so Sons could help his mother and sister with a family problem.
Stevens also went after Weaver’s account of the murder. Weaver said that Sons first struck Maggard with his fist in the head and then placed him in a choke hold. The two then allegedly wrestled to the ground. Sons then allegedly grabbed an Ale-8 bottle and hit Maggard twice in the head, the second time busting the bottle. Weaver said Sons then produced a knife and started stabbing Maggard. He then stated that Sons went through Maggard’s wallet and took some money, about $60 to $70. Weaver had also stated that Sons took some pills Maggard had in a black pouch under a table.
Weaver admitted to seeing Sons hands the whole time and did not know where the knife came from. Police found the knife, a 12 inch long kitchen butcher knife, on the counter. Weaver did allege that Maggard was breathing “real hard” when they left.
Stevens also asked why Weaver why he did not call the police or someone to check on Maggard. He said he was scared of Sons and was afraid “he’d do the same thing to me he did to Mr. Maggard.”
Weaver went to Texas with Sons and Steven was able to produce cell phone records showing that he made 198 calls in the week they were there. “You called your family, a few friends and a girl, but you couldn’t call the police,” Stevens asked Weaver. He stated he was afraid and that Sons was “watching me.”
The defense also attempted to paint the picture that Weaver had made up the story to get the cash reward that was offered after the murder. Stevens said that Weaver had attempted to get a loan for a car after he returned from Texas, but was turned down. Stevens implied that Weaver then made up the story to get the money and knew that Sons had no alibi since they were traveling together at that time. Herald did address the issue when he asked Weaver if head tried to get the reward money or had any intentions to go after the money. Weaver answered no to both questions.
Other witnesses were brought forward on both sides. An inmate that shared a cell with Sons at the Three Forks Detention center in Lee County, Bobby Brewer, testified that Sons told him about the murder. Brewer said that Sons stated he used a lamp and a boot knife. The defense argued that Brewer did not have the right information, had written in a letter that he had information about the murder of “Chuck Gabbard” and that he was up for a probation revocation hearing in March. The prosecutor bringing that hearing was Herald and the defense implied that Brewer was testifying hoping to persuade Herald into some leniency. Herald quickly advised that Brewer knew him and he knew that he would be revoked in March.
Sons’ former girlfriend, Vanessa Durbin, was also called to testify. She stated that she, Sons and her son had gone to Winchester and to church with Weaver after they returned from Texas, despite Weaver’s claims he stayed away from Sons. She also testified that Sons had been living with her since after his gym burned down in October 2010 and that he was a “father figure” to her son.
Durbin also testified that Sons seemed to be surprised and kept asking what was going on when police showed up at the home to arrest him on Dec. 29, 2010. However, Powell County Deputy Robert Mathews, who actually placed the handcuffs on Sons, and Clay City Police Sgt. James Kirk, testified that Sons did not seem surprised. Both men testified that Sons said nothing and was told by the officers why he was being arrested.
Sons’ mother, Judy Howard, was also called to testify about the time her son and Weaver spent in Texas. She said that Weaver did not act like anything was wrong and that he seemed to enjoy his time in Texas. She also testified that Weaver had called her after Sons’ arrest to tell her what he was “supposed to have done and that he used a lamp.” Herald and Weaver denied such a call was made.
Sons did not testify, which is his constitutional right. The jury was advised by Powell Circuit Judge Frank Fletcher not to give any weight to the fact he did not testify as it was his right. Fletcher advised the jury to base their decision solely on the evidence presented.
Both closing arguments were riveting. While defense attorney mostly handled police officers testimony and some experts from the state, Stevens gave the closing argument. She walked the jury through the “doubts” in the case. She claimed that the doubts in the DNA, doubts in Paul Weaver and doubts in the investigation. On the latter statements she told the jury there was other evidence there, including swabs from 13 other potential suspects. Three of them had been at Maggard’s home the day before and there may have been some tension over a relationship among the “friends and associates.” She also brought up how another suspect had blood on his shoe and a cut on his arm, despite pictures being taken and a DNA sample taken, it was never tested.
“The Commonwealth didn’t chase leads, they didn’t care if they had the right man. They had a man,” Steven told the jury, “Has the Commonwealth proved who killed Charles Maggard? No. There is doubt in the DNA, doubt in Paul Weaver and a lot of doubt in the investigation. They have not met their burden of proof.”
Rucker and KSP Detective Shane Barnes, who was called by the defense as a witness, told the jury that the state lab has policies in place only allowing up to 10 items to be submitted for testing. Earlier testimony from lab technicians indicted that if asked more than 10 items could have been submitted. However, both detectives advised that they had run into problems with the lab turning down some requests.
Herald used his closing arguments to try to let the jury see the connection between the profile on the tissue in the back seat of Sons car and it being the same as the profile on the toboggan at the murder scene. He also explained that Weaver, who Sons had allegedly called “mentally retarded,” was “not sophisticated.” But he said that Weaver did not expect to see a homicide that day. “The defense wants a full report,” he told the jury, “Paul Weaver saw something he wasn’t prepared for.”
Herald called the defense’s tactics a “smoke screen.” That included Weaver possibly changing his story, Brewer thought it was a lamp and Howard testifying about a call that Herald said never happened.
“It’s all a smoke screen and I believe your smart enough to see through the smoke,” Herald told the jury. Ass for the defense expert witness, Herald pointed out that she was a paid witness making $175 an hour. ‘The only thing she disagrees with was the thing that matters and that was the toboggan,” Herald said. “If she agrees with the Commonwealth she won’t have a client. She’s in the business to make money.”
Herald reminded the jury they were sworn to decide the case on the evidence, “not a smoke screen or how bad the Commonwealth did.” He also asked them to base their decision “not on a guess or a claim that is contrary.” Herald also told the jury that Sons took more than money or pills from Maggard. “He took something much, much more precious than money or pills, unfortunately that is why we have instruction number four, murder, he took the life of Chuck Maggard.”
The jury seemed to believe more in the doubts raised than what the prosecution was saying. The jury was given the case to deliberate on at 11:35 a.m. After reportedly eating their lunch and discussing the case, they returned with the not guilty verdict at 12:42 p.m.
Sons breathed out with a sigh of relief and thanked his attorneys after the two verdicts were read. Carol Maggard began to sob loudly and sat in her seat for several minutes as members of the prosecution team and her family tried to console her.
Sons was released from custody immediately, after some final paperwork was completed. Meanwhile the Maggard family and friends left the courthouse with expressions of disbelief, anger and grief.
Whisman, the director of the local public defenders office, was pleased with the outcome, but does not diminish the fact that the Maggard family is hurting. “We believed in our client all along, but with a jury trial you never know how it will come out,” Whisman said. “We felt there was doubt in this case.”
Whisman said that her colleagues, all seven of them who work in six counties, were a part of the effort. “Everyone contributed, it was teamwork,” she said. She also believed that Stevens’ closing argument came from the heart. “She said that in this country we have a system where in any case before you take away anyone’s liberty you have to have evidence and plenty of it.”
Whisman also said both sides did a good job and worked hard on the case. “We dealt with what we had, we got to know the family and our client, which is not the case in some lower level (district court) cases because you stay so busy,” Whisman said. “We don’t want to diminish what the other family is going through, but we believed in our client.”
There is no word if the case will be reopened or when as of press time.