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Forrest jurors hear testimony over 2006 death

HATTIESBURG – Security is tight as accused murderer MichaelLeggett is retried in the 2006 beating death of Jewell DuaneDouglas, 36.

Leggett, 33, of Brookhaven, was sentenced as a habitual criminalto life in prison with no chance of parole following his convictionat his first trial in February 2008. However, the sentence wasoverturned and a new trial granted after a motion filed by thedefense alleged a deal between prosecutors and a star witness.

After extensive publicity on Leggett’s 2008 trial, Judge MikeTaylor granted a change of venue for the retrial in order to insurean impartial jury. The trial began Tuesday and court officials saidthe trial should go to jury Thursday afternoon.

For the first two days of the trial, prosecutors have covereddetails surrounding the death of Douglas, calling family andfriends of both the accused and the decedent to the stand, as wellas expert forensic witnesses and law enforcement members.

The testimony of state’s witnesses so far has painted a picturefor the jury of Forrest County natives unfamiliar with the story ofwhat happened in 2006. Jurors could opt to believe Douglas’ deathresulted from an argument between friends that terribly wrong or ifthe case’s circumstances, indeed, rise to the level of murder.

Former Mississippi Medical Examiner Dr. Steven Hayne testifiedthat Douglas had three fractures in his skull. Testimony in theprevious trial pointed to Leggett taking a tire tool and beatingDouglas to death from behind as he lay on the ground.

Defense attorneys Joe Fernald and Jason Tate, if they follow thesame trial strategy as the first trial, may be setting the stage topoint the finger at Mark Culbertson, who admitted in the firsttrial to throwing the tire tool to keep Douglas from getting to histruck to retrieve his gun.

Culbertson was a main witness for the state in the first trialand later pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the case. He wasexpected to testify again for the state Thursday.

During Wednesday’s court action, Tate asked Hayne if the twofractures on the front of Douglas’ head could possibly be from afall, as if he had been hit behind from something and fallenforward.

“I can’t exclude that, but I certainly don’t favor it,” Haynesaid.

DNA specialist Bo Scales took the stand to say he did not findblood on the tire tool believed to be the murder weapon the firsttime he tested it. However, after learning more about the case, here-tested it for skin cells.

“The reason was a misunderstanding on my part,” he said. “Thesecond time, when I realized the case facts, I swabbed the entire’business end’ of the tool’s surface, and I obtained a profile thatwas not blood, but epithelial cells.”

Those cells matched Douglas’ DNA profile, Scales said. The tool,which prosecutors claim belonged in the vehicle Leggett had riddento Douglas’ house in that night, was found on Douglas’property.

Several of Douglas’ family members who testified were able toput both Culbertson and Leggett leaving Douglas’ trailer where hisbody was found. They testified that they could hear arguing comingfrom his residence and they drove over to see what was goingon.

Prosecutors also brought Jennifer Shannon, who has a child withLeggett, to the stand to testify to his behavior on the night ofthe killing. When Leggett and Culbertson came home that night, shesaid his behavior was erratic.

“He came in acting crazy, being loud and cussing and stuff likethat,” she said. “He had a kitchen knife and he was waving itaround in the air.”

Shannon’s sister, Randi Odom, said Leggett was tucking knives inhis pants and looking for guns in the home. She said Culbertson hadasked Odom why they let him leave with Leggett in the firstplace,.

Law enforcement officers Troy Floyd and Kelly Porter testifiedto the defendant’s behavior when they arrived on the scene, withPorter saying Culbertson was trying to make a statement in the backof the patrol car on the way to the jail.

“Then Leggett told him to shut up, and he used some expletives,”Porter said. “He didn’t say anything after that.”

The prosecution is expected to rest after Culbertson testifiesThursday. Once the defense has presented its case, 12 jurors andtwo alternates – nine women and five men – will decide once againon Leggett’s fate.