YORK — A jury needed less than two hours today to reach a 'not guilty' verdict in the murder trial of Antonio Mobley.
Mobley sat quietly in his chair as a clerk read the finding at 2:18 p.m. His parents stayed seated on the front row of the gallery, while others jumped up behind them in a celebration quickly quieted by Judge Lee Alford.
The swift end marked the latest twist in a case that has already taken an unusual course.
A day earlier, Mobley's defense lawyers rested their case without calling any witnesses.
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The attorneys, Melvin Roberts and Jack Swerling, instead focused on creating doubts about the prosecution's case. They emphasized that detectives initially focused on another suspect, and prodded witnesses to acknowledge their stories had changed since the September 2007 shooting.
The verdict brought a swift end to a lengthy and often contentious case.
Mobley was initially charged with murder by York police, but 16th Circuit Solicitor Kevin Brackett dropped the charge after lamenting what he called a botched investigation by the department. He cited a search warrant found in the case file that said witnesses saw another man shoot Dawud Chester, a member of a rival gang in York.
Brackett passed the case on to the state Attorney General's office, which chose to use its newly granted authority to investigate gang crimes.
Police say the shooting culminated a series of fights between the Cali Boys and Valley Boys, two neighborhood groups that had been around since 2004 but mostly operated as cliques.
Prosecutors pinned much of their case on witnesses who described a series of fist fights and verbal exchanges that ended in gunshots. Police arrived to find Chester, 19, lying face down, dead of a gunshot wound to the back.
The prosecution's strongest witness might have been the first person it called. Jerry Holmes told jurors Tuesday that he was walking down the street to pick up a CD from a neighbor's house when he stopped to watch the commotion.
"After the fight, I seen 'Tio pull out a gun and start shooting," testified Holmes, 17, who plays varsity basketball at York Comprehensive High School. Asked to identify the shooter, Holmes pointed at Mobley and said "right there."
But defense lawyers sought to raise doubts about the recollections of Holmes and other witnesses, questioning the men on whether they actually saw Mobley holding a gun amid the scramble.
Roberts has practiced law for 54 years in the city of York, but he got help from Swerling, the 6-foot-5 attorney known as "Mr. Murder" for his work on numerous high-profile cases over a four-decade career.
The attorneys got several witnesses to acknowledge their versions differed from what court transcripts show they told a state grand jury last year.
After less than two hours of deliberations, the jury ruled in the defense's favor.
This is the first case to be investigated and prosecuted using the state grand jury's new authority over gang-related crimes.