An attorney for a teen charged with murder told a Richland County jury Tuesday morning that investigators had bungled the case against his client and had no clear evidence proving he shot Zaire Franklin to death in a Columbia area apartment complex last August.
“No fingerprints! No DNA! Nothing that tied Jermaine Davis to any murder!” said attorney Dick Harpootlian, ticking off evidence police usually have in murder cases – but not in this one.
“They are asking you to jump to conclusions!” Harpootlian said in opening remarks to the four-man, eight-women jury Tuesday at Richland County Courthouse.
The case is unusual for several reasons: Harpootlian, a well-known defense attorney, usually only takes murder cases for six-figure fees. Here, he is representing for a nominal fee an indigent youth who has been in and out of S.C. Department of Social Services foster homes for nine years and who was a runaway at the time of the shooting. Prosecutors also allege the killing happened because of an argument over a paltry amount of money – 17 cents.
Davis, now 17 but who was 16 on Aug. 5 of last year when Franklin was shot to death, faces up to life in prison if the jury convicts him of murder. Prosecutors allege Davis was angry about a dispute the two had several days earlier at a St. Andrews-area convenience store.
Harpootlian told the jury that yes, Davis and Frankin quarreled days earlier but it defies belief to think Davis killed Franklin because of it.
In any event, Harpootlain said, the list of evidence the prosecution lacks includes no confession, no eyewitnesses, no shell casings, no credible motive and no surveillance video showing the killing.
“They were looking for an easy way to clear it, and they got a kid who had argued with him four days earlier,” Harpootlian said.
But prosecutor Jessica Godwin told the jury that much evidence exists that ties Davis to the crime.
It all started several days before the Aug. 5 killing when Davis, not old enough to buy tobacco, asked Franklin to buy him a cigar at the Stop & Go on Kay Street and handed him a dollar. When Franklin came out, he gave Davis the cigar but forgot to give him the 17 cents change, Godwin said.
Davis “became visibly angry, saying, ‘Where’s my change, I want my change,’” said Godwin, one of three prosecutors working the case.
Other evidence implicating Davis includes video showing Davis following Franklin just before the shooting and an admission that Davis made to a friend that he had killed Franklin in an apartment complex near the Stop & Go, Godwin told the jury.
“Davis wanted revenge,” Godwin said. “We ask you to give him something different – justice.”