By NEAL PUTNAM | Uptown News
A Dec. 30 retrial was set Nov. 4, after jurors deadlocked 9-3 for conviction against a man suspected of killing a 71-year-old man in North Park during a robbery 19 years ago.
The retrial of Edward Jamar Brooks, now 39, may start in early January with a jury panel to resolve the murder case involving the slaying of LeRay “Mac” Parkins, who was clubbed twice in the head with a baseball bat during Parkins’ morning walk in an alley around 8:30 a.m. on Aug. 23, 2000.
Jurors discussed the case for roughly 18 hours of deliberations over four days before they announced Oct. 31 they were deadlocked 9-3 for conviction of first-degree murder. San Diego Superior Court Judge Runston Maino asked them at that point if further instructions or just more time would help, but they said they were at an impasse.
Maino then declared a mistrial in the 10-day trial that began Oct. 21 with testimony.
Six jurors remained outside the courtroom afterwards and talked with attorneys and investigators about their deliberations. The main problem was that they could not confirm the testimony of Lester Bell, now 39, and Terrence Brown, now 38, both of whom said it was Brooks who did it.
“It was too much information and not enough reliable evidence,” said the jury foreman afterwards. “There was no way to pin down who [did it].”
Another juror said they questioned why the three people in the case were not treated equally. Bell pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and faces up to 11 years in prison while Brown pleaded guilty to robbery and could get five years in prison.
The eight man, four woman jury re-heard the testimony of a crime lab specialist who said Brooks’ DNA was found in 2018 in three places of one pocket of the pants of Parkins. The pants were preserved, and no DNA was traced to Bell or Brown.
Jurors asked for a definition of reckless indifference of human life, and Maino asked them if further arguments would help. They said yes, and attorneys gave a second round of closing arguments on the fourth day of deliberations — a very rare procedure.
Three hours later however, the jurors gave up and said they took three ballots on both first- and second-degree murder and could not reach a verdict.
“At one point, we were 10-2,” said the foreman, who added it later moved back to 9-3 in favor of conviction of first-degree murder.
One juror said afterwards that Bell’s testimony was “worthless.” Several jurors said the stories of Bell and Brown did not match and “they contradicted each other.” They both testified while wearing jail clothes. Brooks wore a suit.
Several jurors said a female juror steadfastly believed Brooks, who testified that it was Brown who killed Parkins. Brooks claimed that after the robbery, Parkins was only shoved to the ground, but it was Brown who went back and then struck Parkins with the bat.
“We’re talking 19 years ago,” said one juror about the accounts of witnesses.
“They didn’t know what to believe,” said Brooks’ attorney, Robert Ford, to Maino afterwards about the jury. “We did our best. I don’t think our best is good enough.”
“I’m disappointed. I thought our jurors worked hard,” said Deputy District Attorney Christina Arrollado afterwards.
Maino told jurors that they should not feel as if they failed because they could not reach a verdict. He said the trial was an important part of justice.
Parkins was a choir member at the Metropolitan Community Church when it was located on 30th Street in North Park. Rev. Dan Koeshall, who was music director at the time, recalled Parkins having “the most beautiful Irish tenor voice.”
Koeshall, who is now senior pastor of the church currently in Clairemont, said, “I’m still awaiting justice,” upon learning of the mistrial and new trial date.
Jurors appeared to be moved when they heard the testimony of Cordell Hill, Parkins’ partner of 20 years. Hill testified Parkins never regained consciousness before he died two days later in a hospital.
Arrollado asked jurors to convict Brooks of first-degree murder with the special circumstance of murder during a robbery. If convicted of those charges, he would face a term of life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Ford asked jurors to acquit Brooks outright, and referred to Bell and Brown as “the actual murderers.” Ford conceded that Brooks took the wallet since his DNA was left in the victim’s pants pocket. But he said the DNA didn’t show who swung the bat. Several bats were examined, but no DNA was found on them.
Maino suggested the possibility of a plea agreement with Brooks, and Ford said his “standing offer” is for a guilty plea to robbery with the dismissal of a murder charge. That is the same plea agreement that Brown has.
Brooks, Bell, and Brown remain in jail.
“It’s so sad when the most vulnerable of us are senselessly brutalized,” said Koeshall. “May we be ever vigilant in looking out for each other.”
— Neal Putnam is a local court reporter.