A mistrial was declared Tuesday in the unusual case of a teenager facing murder charges over pocket change.
Jermaine Davis, 17, is accused of killing Zaire Franklin, 25, on Aug. 5 because Franklin did not return 17 cents of $1 he used to buy Davis a cigar three days before. But his attorney, Dick Harpootlian, argued investigators had botched the case and had no clear evidence proving Davis shot Franklin.
After eight days of trial, the jury deliberated for seven hours on Tuesday before announcing they were deadlocked with 11 of the 12 jurors favoring Davis’ acquittal, Harpootlian said.
“I’m proud of the fact that the Richland County jury had significant questions about his guilt,” Harpootlian said. “We’re obviously not happy with the fact that it was a mistrial.”
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The case was unusual for several reasons: Davis would have qualified for a public defender, since the teen has no source of income. But Harpootlian – a former 5th Circuit solicitor and well-known defense lawyer who usually charges six-figure fees – took on Davis’ case for what he said was a “nominal” fee.”
Harpootlian said it was about ensuring the system was fair. He also worked with his co-counsel, Chris Kenney.
“This is a kid who was in foster care who ran away and was a runaway at the time of the commission of this (alleged) crime,” Harpootlian said. “I’m proud to be representing him.”
But Davis’ prosecutors included 5th Circuit assistant solicitors Luck Campbell and Meghan Walker, who have tried many high-profile murder cases and have rarely lost. A third prosecutor, Jessica Godwin, was also involved.
Godwin argued the feud between Davis and Franklin started a few days before the shooting, when Davis gave Franklin $1 to buy him a cigar at the Stop & Go at the corner of Kay Street and Beatty Road in St. Andrews. Davis – 16 years old at the time – could not buy the cigar himself, because he was under age.
When Franklin emerged, he gave Davis the cigar but forgot to give him the 17 cents change. The two and one of Davis’ acquaintances argued over the money.
Still angry at Franklin three days later, Davis shot and killed Franklin at the St. Andrews Woods Apartments near the convenience store, said Richland County Sheriff’s deputies and prosecutors. Godwin said Davis admitted to killing Franklin to a friend.
Davis was looking at 30 years to life in prison. It remains unclear if the assistant solicitors will attempt take the case to court again.
Harpootlian argued in court that the prosecution lacked a confession, eyewitnesses, shell casings, a credible motive and surveillance video showing the killing. The state presented more than 100 exhibits and called 20 witnesses, Harpootlian said on Tuesday.
Davis remains in jail. He also faces carjacking charges in a separate case. Harpootlian plans to represent him in that trial as well.