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Man found innocent in sexual battery trial

A Lincoln County man was found innocent Friday night following atwo-day trial in which he was accused of the sexual battery of a28-year-old woman he met in McComb last March.

A seven-man, five-woman jury deliberated almost four hoursbefore finding Willie Laird, 41, of 726 Luther Trail, innocent inthe March 3, 2002, incident on King’s Trail. Laird was releasedfrom jail shortly after the verdict was returned around 9:15p.m.

“It was a very difficult trial,” said defense attorney JoeFernald. “I think the jury arrived at the only verdict they couldhave based on the evidence,”

After meeting at a McComb hotel lounge and then going to anightclub, Laird and the woman returned to Lincoln County andeventually ended up on King’s Trail where the sexual battery wasalleged to have occurred. Prosecutors, though, were unable to provetheir case beyond a reasonable doubt.

Fernald commended jurors on their willingness to serve and theirattentiveness during the trial and deliberations, especially on aFriday before a holiday weekend. Several potential jurors, who didnot return for jury selection after another trial earlier in theweek, were called back and chastised by Judge Mike SmithFriday.

Last week’s verdict was the second court victory this year forLaird, who faced another sexual battery trial in March. Then, hewas found innocent of charges in connection with a June 2002incident that had similar circumstances to last week’s case.

One difference, however, was that prosecutors last week had DNAevidence to use in their efforts to try and convict Laird. Citingtesting procedures, Assistant District Attorney Diane Jones toldjurors in closing that the odds of someone else having sex with thealleged victim were over 10 billion to one.

“That, ultimately, is the strongest evidence that we have thatshows Mr. Laird had sex with her,” said Jones, who also cited theconsistency of the alleged victim’s testimony in contrast with theinconsistencies in Laird’s version of events.

At one time displaying a box of collected evidence and referringto the involved and scientific DNA evidence, Fernald said that onlyproved that Laird and the woman had been together.

“Consent is the key here,” Fernald said in his closing statementto jurors.