November 28, 2012
After deliberating for more than three hours, a jury of eight women and four men filed into the Albemarle County courthouse to deliver a verdict of not guilty in the Joseph Harris murder trial. The 22-year old was facing two life sentences in the shooting death of Anthony Lorenzo Johnson, known as "Bunny" to family and friends. The courtroom was packed with family members of both men throughout the three-day trial.
"We were so nervous and so scared and when we finally got a not guilty verdict we were just so grateful and so thankful," said Julia Spinner, the aunt of Joseph Harris.
Prosecutors in the case called three witnesses to the stand who were currently serving prison sentences and testified Harris confessed to shooting Johnson. One witness, Levi Finney, broke down in tears on the stand, saying Harris told him "I didn't mean to do it, I just wanted to scare him." But Finney also admitted he hoped his testimony would lead to a lighter prison sentence and it wasn't enough to convince the jury.
"There was no DNA evidence against him in this case and there was no forensic evidence against him in this case and all of the other evidence was unreliable unsubstantiated jailhouse snitch type testimony that just didn't make out a murder case," said defense attorney Andre Hakes.
While family members of Harris broke down in tears of joy, families members of Johnson also broke down. Johnson's mother had to be helped out of the courtroom, unable to stand on her own.
While the family of Joseph Harris celebrated his second chance, they recognized another family would never see their son again.
"We remember that there is a family here grieving tonight for the loss of a loved one and we keep that in mind and we are very sorry for that and we keep them in prayers," said Spinner.