Jurors can’t reach verdict in 2019 Little Rock pizza restaurant homicide trial; retrial set for June

Jurors can’t reach verdict in 2019 Little Rock pizza restaurant homicide trial; retrial set for June

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Pulaski County jurors, tasked with deciding whether the fatal shooting of a Little Rock man at a pizza restaurant was murder or self-defense, could not reach the required unanimous verdict Thursday, forcing the first-degree murder trial of Domeque Latice Jones to end in mistrial.

The seven women and five men deliberated a little more than four hours before notifying Circuit Judge Karen Whatley that they could not reach a decision, although they had indicated in a note they were having trouble finding an accord within an hour of beginning their deliberations.

Jurors’ choices were not only first-degree murder or innocence for the August 2019 shooting, but a range of lesser homicidal offenses, such as the felonies second-degree murder and reckless manslaughter as well as misdemeanor negligent homicide. Prosecutors said they’ll retry Jones in June.

Prosecution and defense agreed on some key points during the two-day trial. Jones was working at the Little Caesars Pizza restaurant on South University Avenue, in legal possession of a firearm, when he and 33-year-old Marcus Dominique Fleming, a customer, engaged in a heated encounter that ended up with Jones fatally shooting Fleming, who was unarmed.

Jones emptied his gun, firing 13 times — originally stated in court to be 14 — at Fleming, first knocking him to the ground, then continuing to shoot as Fleming crawled out of the restaurant to die in the parking lot, with 13 gunshot wounds and four bullets in him. Jones left the restaurant, where he had been assistant manager, before police arrived but was arrested the following day while making arrangements to surrender.

The source of contention between the men was Fleming’s belief that Jones was somehow involved or knew something about the still-unsolved murder of Fleming’s sister, April Harris, about 18 months earlier in North Little Rock. Jones’ best friend, whom he sometimes described as a brother, had dated the woman.

The shooting was captured in its entirety on Little Caesars video, and the 40-minute recording was the centerpiece of the prosecution’s case.

In closing arguments, Jones’ lawyer told jurors that his client was a “hardworking family man” who’d been close to finishing his work day and looking forward to seeing his daughter when he was accosted on the job by someone who had been regularly tormenting him for more than a year.

“Domeque Jones didn’t want any of this,” attorney Louis Etoch said. “Domeque was trying to do his job. Marcus was trying to prove he was a man. [Jones] was trying to protect himself.”

Etoch, who was assisted by attorney Robert Lewis, told jurors what made Fleming seem especially dangerous was how, after leaving the restaurant once at his girlfriend’s urging, Fleming returned less than a minute later to renew the confrontation. That makes Jones’ belief Fleming was armed absolutely believable, the attorney said.

Further, Jones warned the older man he was armed but Fleming claimed to have a gun as well and would not back down, Etoch told jurors.

Even though the men were separated by a four-foot tall counter, Jones knew Fleming to be someone he should not turn his back on, Etoch said, telling jurors Jones was entitled to shoot because he believed Fleming had a gun and was about to use it, even if Jones had not seen a weapon.

“You can’t wait until someone pulls a gun out,” the attorney said. “If [Fleming] had a gun, he could’ve pulled it out and shot back.”

Jones had “an itchy trigger finger,” and had no provocation to empty his weapon at the unarmed Fleming, prosecutors Scott Duncan and Justin Brown told jurors. They said Jones crossed the line into murder when he kept shooting Fleming as the wounded man was crawling away after being knocked to the floor by Fleming’s bullets.

“The defendant is the only one who pulled a gun out, the only one who shot that gun,” Brown said. “Mr. Jones made the choice. He chose to murder. He could have chosen to retreat.”

Jones even acknowledged on the witness stand that, looking back, he could have done things differently, the prosecutors noted.

“I did what I had to do to defend myself,” Jones told jurors during his 80 minutes on the witness stand. “I didn’t want it [Fleming’s death] to happen.”

Questioned by prosecutors, Jones said in retrospect, he “probably” could have walked away or done some other things differently. But in the moment facing a raging Fleming, “it was all too fast.”

“I really didn’t have time to think at all,” Jones testified.

He and Jones had been friends but their relationship soured when Fleming’s sister was killed, and the older man quickly grew suspicious of him, “acting crazy.” Jones described a handful of encounters, some on social media, between them that he said were not always threatening but made him leery because he knew Fleming as a big man, quick to anger.

Jones said he’d never seen Fleming do anything wrong but Fleming had told him stories that made him worried about what Fleming would do. Fleming acted like he had a gun that day while saying “I’ll beat the blood out of you,” among other threats, Jones said.

His story contradicted testimony by Fleming’s girlfriend that Jones had greeted Fleming profanely while rudely serving the couple some bread sticks and deliberately knocking their marinara sauce on the floor. Jones said the sauce fell accidentally because he was rushing to get the couple their food quickly while minimizing personal contact with the couple.

Fleming’s’ girlfriend told jurors that she got Fleming to leave the restaurant but that he insisted in going back to confront Jones because he was angry how rude Jones had been with the sauce and that a man could not let that kind of slight go without saying something about it.

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