Jury finds Lyons guilty

Published 10:52 am Friday, June 5, 2015

A Lincoln County jury found the man accused of killing John Deere guilty of manslaughter and armed robbery, but not murder. 

Aaron LaDaniel Lyons, on trial for the 2004 murder of Deere, was found guilty of one count of manslaughter and one count of armed robbery Thursday evening. Lyons was indicted for murder Sept. 3, 2014 in connection with the death of John Deere on Jan. 16, 2004. Lyons later pleaded not guilty in his arraignment Oct. 4, 2014.

Photo by NATHANIEL WEATHERSBY A jury found Aaron Lyons guilty of manslaughter and armed robbery Thursday. Lyons (at right) elected not to testify during the trial.

A jury found Aaron Lyons guilty of manslaughter and armed robbery Thursday. Lyons (at right) elected not to testify during the trial.

The jury’s verdict came after testimonies from the state’s remaining four witnesses, including one from a second ex-girlfriend of Lyons’s, Lavatrus Harris. Harris spoke in detail about the events the morning of Jan. 16, 2004, when Deere was killed at his store, Pik & Pak on Highway 51, from two gunshots to the back and one to the back of the neck. Harris’s account of the events of that morning matched the evidence brought forth by the state.

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Lyons chose not to testify. Before the jury was ushered out for deliberation, each side gave closing arguments while a picture of Deere hung over their heads from the courtroom projectors.

Sentencing for Lyons will take place Monday at 11 a.m. The maximum sentencing for manslaughter in Mississippi is 20 years.

Members of Deere’s family were offered a chance to deliver a statement. They chose to hold their statements until Monday.

During her testimony Lavatrus Harris said she lived with Lyons with their two kids in 2004. She described how one night while it was dark and still cold outside she was awakened by Lyons and told to take a ride with him.

Harris said that at the time Lyons was working as a truck driver for US Express and an 18-wheeler he drove was their primary source of transportation. She said it was a red 18-wheeler with no trailer, two seats and a bed in the back part of the truck’s cab.

Harris said the morning of Jan. 16, 2004, Lyons drove the truck to a place close to the library in downtown Brookhaven. She said the place had cars with for sale signs. She said he parked the truck, told her to get out and together, they walked to a red car in the lot. Months earlier, she said, they test drove the car, and he told her to get a key made for the car.

They unlocked the car and drove it to the Pik & Pak on Highway 51 where she was instructed to park away from the building before approaching with lights turned off. She said Lyons told her to stay in the car and after she later heard “pop, pop, pop, pop,” Lyons reappeared and told her to drive.

They then drove back to the lot across from the library where Lyons wiped down the car, returned the for sale sign back to the car’s window and told Harris to get back in the truck they’d left there earlier.

Harris said she was told to stay in the bed in the back of the truck behind a curtain where she heard sounds that caused to her believe they’d gotten onto the interstate. After a stop, with the sounds of the truck’s door opening and closing indicating to her that Lyons had left the truck and gotten back in, she said they went to get something to eat and went home.

Along with Harris, the state called three more witnesses.

Bo Scales, the retired owner and director of Scales Biological Laboratory, testified as an expert in DNA testing analysis. Scales testified that DNA from initial pieces of evidence — including cigarette butts, blood from a carpet, swabs from the hood of a car, a brown paper bag and pair of FUBU jeans — did not match DNA swabs from a previous suspect, Kenneth Baggett.

George Schiro was called for his involvement while working as a DNA technical leader and analyst at Acadiana Crime Lab in 2006. Schiro testified to DNA gathered from evidence in the case and that at its submission in 2006, the DNA found did not match with anyone in their database. Schiro said a match was later made on May 6, 2013, and the name was passed on to the sheriff’s office.

Kathryn Rogers was the last to testify and did so as an expert in DNA testing and analysis. Rogers is a forensic DNA analyst at the Mississippi Crime Lab. Rogers testified that DNA returned from the Burger King bag found at the site off Exit 24, where the stolen cash box was found, contained DNA from Harris. Harris’s DNA was also found included in a mixture of DNA from purple cloth, also found at the cash box site. Rogers testified that the DNA profile from black FUBU jeans matched a reference swab from Lyons.

After Rogers’s testimony the state rested. The defense motioned the court for a directed verdict on their belief that the state failed to establish a case for armed robbery or homicide. Judge David Strong denied the motion. After a break, Lyons chose not to testify and both sides came to a rest.

Soon after, closing arguments were given. The prosecution focused on the testimony given from Harris about Lyons’s actions during the morning of the murder, restating the highlights of her statements.

“This is not a case about Kenneth Baggett. It’s not a case about William Hutson,” Special Assistant to the Attorney General Larry Baker said. “It’s about John Henry Deere Jr.”

The defense centered their closing statements around the dismissal of the case against Kenneth Baggett and the possibility that Sonya Ewell’s and Harris’s testimonies were fabricated.

“All the state’s witnesses want you to believe someone can fabricate their own guilt but don’t want you to believe someone can fabricate someone else’s guilt,” Bill Goodwin said in defense of Lyons. Goodwin was references statements made earlier in the trial that Hutson and Baggett made up their story with information about the murder that was publicly available at the time. Goodwin ended his statement with condolences for Deere’s family, stating that they deserve to find the real person who committed the crime.

The prosecution returned stating, “nothing was more ludicrous” than the idea that all the witnesses got together to frame Lyons and let Baggett get away.

“Kenneth Baggett didn’t do anything. He was just running his mouth and my mom always said you can’t fix stupid,” Special Assistant to the Attorney General Jim Giddy said.

After arguments were finished the jury returned to the jury room where they decided after about two hours of deliberation to find Lyons guilty of both manslaughter and armed robbery.