By Neal Putnam
A mistrial was declared Oct. 31 after a jury deadlocked 9-3 for conviction in the 2000 murder of a 71-year-old gay man who was killed during a robbery in North Park. A re-trial is possible. Jurors eventually gave up trying to reach a verdict after roughly 18 hours of deliberations over four days in the trial of Edward Jamar Brooks, now 39, who is charged with killing LeRay “Mac” Parkins, who sang in the choir of the Metropolitan Community Church.
The main problem was that some jurors did not believe the testimony of Lester Bell, now 39, and Terrence Brown, now 38, who said it was Brooks who struck Parkins in the head with a baseball bat on Aug. 23, 2000 in an alley at 8:30 a.m. behind 3675 Pershing Ave. in North Park.
The eight-man, four-woman jury re-heard the testimony of a crime lab specialist who said Brooks’ DNA was found in 2018 in three places of one pocket of the pants of Parkins. The pants were preserved, and no DNA was traced to Bell or Brown.
Jurors asked for a definition of reckless indifference of human life, and San Diego Superior Court Judge Runston Maino asked them if further arguments would help. They said yes, and attorneys gave a second round of closing arguments on the fourth day of deliberations — a very rare procedure.
Three hours later however, the jurors gave up and said they took three ballots on both first and second-degree murder and could not reach a verdict.
“It was too much information and not enough reliable evidence,” said the jury foreman afterwards. “At one point, we were 10-2,” with the foreman saying it later moved back to 9-3 in favor of conviction of first-degree murder. “There was no way to pin down who [did it].”
One juror told the prosecutor afterwards that Bell’s testimony was “worthless.” Several jurors said the stories of Bell and Brown did not match and “they contradicted each other.” They both testified in jail clothes.
Several jurors said a female juror steadfastly believed Brooks, who testified that it was Brown who killed Parkins. Brooks claimed that after the robbery, Parkins was only shoved to the ground, but it was Brown who went back and then struck Parkins with the bat.
“We’re talking 19 years ago,” said one juror about the accounts of witnesses.
Six jurors stayed in the hallway to talk with attorneys and investigators, but the other six left immediately.
“They didn’t know what to believe,” said Brooks’ attorney, Robert Ford, to Maino afterwards about the jury. “We did our best. I don’t think our best is good enough.”
“I’m disappointed. I thought our jurors worked hard,” said Deputy District Attorney Christina Arrollado afterwards.
The prosecutor will announce later whether Brooks will face a second trial. He remains in jail.
Arrollado asked jurors to convict Brooks of first-degree murder with the special circumstance of murder during a robbery. If convicted of those charges, he would face a term of life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Ford asked jurors to acquit Brooks outright and referred to Bell and Brown as “the actual murderers.” Ford conceded that Brooks took the wallet since his DNA was left in the victim’s pants pocket. But he said the DNA didn’t show who swung the bat. Several bats were examined, but no DNA was found on them.
Maino suggested the possibility of a plea agreement with Brooks, and Ford said his “standing offer” is for a guilty plea to robbery with the dismissal of a murder charge. That is the same plea agreement that Brown has, and he faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison.
Bell testified he was with Brooks, who held a bat in the alley for “intimidation” in the robbery. “I was kinda shocked when he hit him,” said Bell.
The jury was aware of the plea agreements with Bell and Brown. Bell pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and faces up to 11 years in prison. They will be sentenced Nov. 15.
Brown sparred with Ford during his testimony, telling him “your client committed a crime.”
“He [Brooks] wants to be a coward and not man up and admit [what he did],” said Brown. “I never hit Mr. Parkins. I don’t know what Mr. Parkins looks like. Your client knows what Mr. Parkins looks like.”
Also testifying was San Diego Police Detective Jovanna Derrough, who said she interviewed Brooks in North Carolina after his 2018 arrest. She asked him if he recalled a murder in North Park, and Brooks replied, “Oh, the bat” without her mentioning the bat was a weapon.
Derrough said Brooks described Parkins as “the old white dude” and that it happened “down an alley in North Park.”
Anthony Johnson, a former police officer and now district attorney investigator, testified he requested additional DNA testing on Parkins’ pants’ pocket in 2018.
Several people from MCC, Parkins’ church, said they were disappointed to learn about the jury deadlock.
“Mac had the most beautiful Irish tenor voice,” said Senior Pastor Dan Koeshall, who was music director in 2000.
“It’s so sad when the most vulnerable of us are senselessly brutalized,” said Koeshall. “May we be ever vigilant in looking out for each other.”