As a sheriff’s office patrol car carrying James Poore waited at a traffic light outside the Tulsa County Courthouse to take him back to jail, family members of the victims of a quadruple murder released pink, purple and blue balloons into the air.
“This is for my nana,” said Lamarion Evans, 10.
Lamarion’s grandmother Julie Jackson, 55, was among four women bound and executed at the Fairmont Terrace apartment complex on Jan. 7, 2013.
Poore, 35, was found guilty of her murder and those of Misty Nunley, 33, and twin sisters Rebeika Powell and Kayetie Powell Melchor, 23, after a two-week jury trial that ended Monday afternoon. He and his brother Cedric Poore were charged with first-degree murder as well as two counts of armed robbery.
James Poore was convicted on all counts by the jury, and Cedric Poore is expected to be tried separately later this year.
James Poore shook his head from side to side slightly as the jury foreman read the group’s verdict on the first count regarding the murder of Kayetie Powell.
A gasp was quickly stifled from a section reserved for the victims’ family members while others in the same row bowed their heads or rubbed one another’s backs.
“I’m extremely excited and really relieved,” said the twin sisters’ mother, Charon Powell.
She likened the long wait for trial and the many days of testimony to her time visiting her daughters in the neonatal unit for several months after they were born.
“A sense of peace came over me. … After this they’ll be well and they’ll be released. They’ll be free,” she said.
After three hours of closing arguments, the jury deliberated about an hour before courthouse staff started notifying people a verdict had been reached.
The defendant was still tying the tie he wore throughout the trial and fastening his belt, both which were removed while he was in holding awaiting the verdict, when they returned to open court.
The jurors filed in with their eyes downcast and lips pursed.
In the second stage of the trial, they were informed of his four prior convictions for robbery in a case from 2000 in which he was sentenced to 17 years incarceration.
The jury deliberated 20 minutes before returning a recommendation that Poore be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole on each of the murder charges and life sentences for the armed robbery counts. Both recommendations were the maximum sentence allowed since then-District Attorney Tim Harris previously declined to pursue the death penalty in this case.
James Poore will be formally sentenced May 2 after a pre-sentencing investigation is completed.
As Poore was led to an elevator, former homicide detective Kevin Hill exited an adjacent men’s room. Poore turned to speak to Hill.
“He said something like ‘he hopes we’re happy,’” Hill told The Frontier.
Prosecutors alleged Poore and his brother decided to rob Powell’s apartment after Powell accused James Poore’s girlfriend, Jamila Jones, of stealing from her earlier that morning.
Jones, who also lived at Fairmont Terrace, told the court she called to tell Poore she saw drugs, cash and jewelry in Powell’s apartment. He then apparently called his brother to discuss “hitting a lick,” or committing a robbery, Jones and another witness said.
District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler argued in closing Poore and his brother “knew everything that was about to play out” when they went to Powell’s apartment.
Defense attorney Wes Johnson countered that investigators, including forensic technicians, made up their minds the defendant was responsible too quickly and to the exclusion of other suspects or theories. He maintained all the state’s evidence was circumstantial urged the jury to tell the state “they gotta look further, they gotta look deeper in this case.”
During the trial, prosecutors called 24 witnesses, two of them twice. In addition to technical witnesses, such as responding officers, crime scene investigators and a cell phone company representative, two of Poore’s family members and three people who were staying in Jones’ apartment testified for the state.
The apartment occupants told of threats Poore made after the crime that he would know where the information came from if he became a suspect.
His niece and sister-in-law testified he confessed to them.
Kunzweiler, using a graph of circles creating a ring around James Poore’s name, combined their names and the physical evidence — shell casings from the crime scene that were matched to casings recovered from Poore’s mother’s backyard, a cigarette butt containing Poore’s DNA and cell phone records showing his brother’s phone traveling from his residence to Fairmont Terrace and back at the time of the murders — for a visual representation of a ring Poore “cannot escape” in his final remarks to the jury Monday morning.
Johnson’s defense relied heavily on the testimony of a forensic metallurgist, William Tobin, who argued forensic ballistics techniques used to match bullet casings to a single gun are flawed and not scientific.
He also pointed to an alternate suspect, who was ultimately eliminated as a person of interest, and alternate theory that the murders were meant as a message because Powell owed a Mexican drug cartel $1,900 even though Poore’s girlfriend testified she spread the same rumor at Poore’s urging.
Johnson told reporters he makes a point not to comment after such cases because everything that needs to be said is presented in court. Poore, addressing District Judge Kurt Glassco, attempted to fire his attorney based on what he perceived to be incompetence twice during the trial but ultimately retained Johnson upon Glassco’s advice.
“Today is certainly gratifying for the families to know that there’s some finality to at least one part of the case. We still have another defendant to try,” Kunzweiler said.
Julie Jackson’s brother and sister said justice had been served.
Clifford West, her brother, lifted his arms above him as he said he saw his sister Monday when he looked up to see an eagle with its wings spread in the sky.
“She’s flying up there,” he said.