A trial on charges of armed robbery ended in a hung jury and the defendant pled guilty to attempted first degree robbery.
Laderrius Shelton, 21, of Homer, pled guilty Thursday before 26th Judicial District Judge Jeff Cox after the jury spent six and a half hours deliberating. Cox declared a mistrial when he learned the jury could not reach a unanimous vote.
“It simply means that 10 of the 12 jurors could not reach a verdict,” Eric Johnson, Shelton’s attorney, said.
Johnson says his client will be sentenced August 3, with a 15 year cap on his punishment.
“After we (Johnson and assistant district attorney Hugo Holland) determined that the jury was deadlocked…Mr. Holland and I reached a plea agreement in the case,” he said. “Mr. Shelton entered a plea to a charge of attempted first degree robbery with a 15 year cap on the sentence, which will be imposed by Judge Cox, with the benefit of a presentence investigation.”
He says at the PSI hearing, Holland will be able to present testimony from the victims in the case and he would be able to present testimony from Shelton and his family members.
Holland, in an email to the Press-Herald, says he was disappointed in how the trial turned out, because he feels the jury voted along racial lines, with nine white jurors and three black.
“During closing arguments, defense counsel for Shelton interjected the issue of race into the case, claiming that the Minden Police Department focused on Mr. Shelton solely because he was African American,” Holland said. “Even though the victim in the case was also African-American, and told me later she was offended by the argument…, the jury voted along racial lines causing a mistrial.”
He says the three black jurors refused to vote guilty despite the evidence of Shelton’s apparent guilt.
“What I find interesting, and disturbing, is that immediately after the mistrial, in an effort to avoid a re-trial where he could be convicted and face up to 99 years at hard labor, Mr. Shelton entered a guilty plea to a reduced charge and faces up to 15 years in Angola,” Holland said. “The plea was approved by the victims. What is more interesting is that during the plea, Mr. Shelton admitted, under oath, that he committed the offense in question. In other words, he admitted in open court that he committed the offense in question even though his attorney had successfully convinced the three African Americans on the jury that he was innocent and merely picked at random as the offender because the Minden Police Department was racist.”
He went on to say that while on rare occasion, law enforcement acts with malice against racial minorities, there is no evidence whatsoever this happens in this case.
“It is disturbing to me as a prosecutor, the only lawyer in the criminal justice system whose sole obligation is to find the truth, that some of our African American citizens believe these actions are widespread,” Holland said. “I urge you to contact Mr. Larry Gibson, the owner of Harris Corner Store, whose niece was the victim of the vicious armed robber perpetrated by Mr. Shelton and Mr. Brian Gilbert. He sat through the entire trial. He is African American. And he was offended at the defense attorney’s use of the race card in this trial. Just ask him.”
Johnson says the reason he and Holland reached a plea agreement was to avoid the state having to retry Shelton. He praised Holland for his hard work during the trial.
“That was the first trial I’ve had with Mr. Holland, and I was impressed with his job as the prosecutor,” he said. “He did an excellent job as did everyone in the DA’s office with the trial. It was also the first case I’ve tried with my new associate Rachel Wiggins. She did a fantastic job of helping me with the trial, and Judge Cox did a great job presiding over the trial.”
Shelton was accused of armed robbery after he and another male, Brian Gilbert, held up a convenience store in January 2014. He was accused of brandishing a handgun and threatening to shoot the store clerk if she didn’t give him the cash in the register.
At the time of his arrest, Minden Police Chief Steve Cropper says the two took an undetermined amount of cash.
Gilbert has not gone to trial as of yet.