PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) – It took nearly six hours for foreman Dennis Powell and 11 fellow jurors to reach a not guilty verdict in the case of Jerry Atkinson Jr. earlier this month.
But the decision wasn’t easy, Powell says, “We didn’t go in there with any preconceived notions of what had happened. We all felt, it was all emotional.”
Prosecutors argued that Atkinson was in on a plan to commit a robbery the night in June 2015. 18-month-old Dion Lofton Jr. was shot and killed off Maple Avenue in Portsmouth. The defense countered that Atkinson was on the porch when it happened, and ran when he heard the gunshots.
Some of the evidence in the trial was gut wrenching, including images of the baby shot in the face.
“Passing the autopsy photos through the jurors, all I could see in my head was my granddaughter,” says Powell.
Powell says he was one of three jurors initially in favor of a guilty verdict, but some witness testimony was not solid and the evidence against the defendant beyond a reasonable doubt was not there.
“If there was one piece of evidence that you could have said this, right here, this proves that he did it or this right here proves that he didn’t do it, but there wasn’t,” Powell says.
He’s thought of the case every day since then.
“It was senseless, absolutely senseless, that he had to lose his life,” Powell says of Lofton.
Powell says he hopes Atkinson does something good with his life, like get the GED he has been working toward.
Chief Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Cedric Wiggins, the lead prosecutor on the case, provided the following statement:
“By the time a case is given to us for prosecution by the investigative agency, witnesses have been spoken to, forensic evidence has been gathered and submitted for analysis, video evidence has been captured and the majority of the investigation has been concluded; therefore, we must present the case to the best of our abilities utilizing the investigative results and witness testimony that we have. It is our duty to do what is in the best interest of our victims and their families and to always search out the truth in order to present it to the finder of fact to seek justice.”
Defense attorney Andrew Sacks told 10 On Your Side Tuesday, “It sounds to me like a jury that did exactly the job they were supposed to, out of respect for the jury, I don’t want to comment further.”
Two other men were charged in this case. Anthony Holley pleaded guilty and is scheduled to be sentenced next month. Marquis Hinton is serving 30 years behind bars for the crime and is planning an appeal.