As jurors in Kenan Gay’s second-degree murder case began deliberations Wednesday, Superior Court Judge Forrest Bridges urged them to “declare truth.”
First, they must figure out the truth about Gay.
Is he the boyfriend who rushed to the aid of Liz Wicker two years ago at Ed’s Tavern? Or is he the criminal suspect who ran away that night from the scene of Robb Kingston’s death?
Is Gay the 6-foot-4 former college athlete who eyewitnesses say pushed the drunken Kingston into Park Road? Or did Gay, as he swore under oath, take his hands off of Kingston more than 20 feet from the street?
In closing arguments, each side again presented the 25-year-old defendant in sharply different ways. To defense attorney David Rudolf, Gay is the man “we’d all like our children to grow up to be.”
Prosecutor Jay Ashendorf, however, said Gay is “running from the truth,” just as he ran up Park Road after Kingston was struck and killed by a passing car.
Starting at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, the seven women and five men of the jury began searching for the Gay they can all agree on. If found guilty, the law school graduate faces punishment ranging from probation to a prison term.
Gay was arrested the night of March 3, 2012, accused of second-degree murder in Kingston’s death. Video inside Ed’s Tavern, a popular Dilworth bar, shows Gay pushing Kingston out the front door after Kingston tried to kiss Gay’s girlfriend, Liz Wicker, now his wife.
What the jury decides happened next outside the bar will decide the case. Three verdicts are in play: guilty of second-degree murder or the lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter, or not guilty. The decision must be unanimous.
In their final words during the three-week trial, defense attorneys Rudolf and Sonya Pfeiffer told jurors that the facts and the law leave them no choice: Gay committed no crime.
They argued Wednesday that Gay was defending Wicker from a drunken man’s advances. They said descriptions of Gay growing angry at Kingston that night don’t match Gay’s peaceful nature or how he appeared on tavern video as he partied with friends.
Both defense attorneys maintained that the state had not made its case. Kingston’s death, Rudolf said, was “a horrible accident, a tragic accident, but an accident all the same.” As such, he said, the jury could not convict.
Ashendorf, though, described Gay in a criminal light, saying he had assaulted Kingston well after the 30-year-old had left Wicker and was walking toward the door.
‘Heroes don’t run away’
To believe Gay’s version of events – that he had released the drunken Kingston a safe distance from Park Road – the jury would have to disregard all eyewitness testimony in the trial.
“Heroes don’t run away,” Ashendorf said. “Kenan Gay ran away from a crime scene, a homicide scene. He’s still trying to run away from the truth and from justice.”
The trial has been an emotional one. Both Gay and Wicker broke down on the witness stand. Family members on both sides have shown the strain as video was replayed and events recounted.
All week, as dozens of Gay’s supporters filled his side of the courtroom, Liz Wicker Gay kept the same seat – the one on her side of the room that was closest to the jury. She began to cry Wednesday when Pfeiffer described how she was alone in Ed’s Tavern when Kingston began his advances.
Had Kenan Gay meant to hurt Kingston? Had he acted recklessly or with disregard and indifference to the safety of others? Standing in front of the jury box, Pfeiffer said no.
About 15 feet away, Lori Kingston, the dead man’s mother, almost imperceptibly appeared to be nodding yes.