Jury finds Lufkin woman not guilty of murder

LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) - A jury has found a Lufkin woman not guilty in a 2010 drive-by shooting death.

Kendall Thompson left the Angelina County Courthouse Friday a free woman. Since January, she has been held in jail without bond.

"We're very pleased with the verdict," said Kendall's mother Kelli Thompson. "We know that Kendall did not plan to kill anyone, including Mr. Cooper and so we are just thankful that the jurors delivered a not guilty verdict."

"I believe God has been with us every step of the way," said Kendall's sister Cameron Thompson. "He knew in His hear that she was innocent. We all feel for the Cooper family and their loss, but we never intended for that to happen and my sister has been innocent and we proved it today."

Angelina County Assistant District Attorney Katrina Carswell said she appreciated the jury's hard work.

"We knew before we ever went into this trial that this was a very difficult case, but we felt obligated to present it to a jury," Carswell said.

Thompson's defense attorney Al Charanza said the case has been a tremendous turnaround in his client's life.

"We would like to thank the jury for all their hard work," said Charanza. "We also felt that the district attorneys office did a good job in presenting the case. Kendall still feels bad for the family of Joe Cooper and the fact that he lost his life, but again she was not guilty of this offense, she was only a witness, a passenger in a vehicle. I truly believe the district attorney's office will get the killer at a future date in another trial."

"We just want to thank the jury for having an open mind that's what we had prayed for that their minds would be open to the evidence," said Kendall's mother.

Thompson's murder trial began Tuesday morning in District Judge Barry Bryan's courtroom with Thompson pleading not guilty to murder.

Thompson, her then-boyfriend, Elton Leroyce "June" Gibson Jr., of Lufkin, and Johnx Ray Greer, 20, of Lufkin, are charged in the death of Joseph Cooper on Cottonbelt Street in Lufkin.

The jury reached the verdict after about five hours of deliberations.

According to an arrest affidavit, a witness said Cooper was in the house when he heard gunshots outside. He then went outside and about five to ten minutes later, Cooper was hit by a bullet.

The affidavit states Cooper was not involved in the initial conflict on the street, which began when a man "pie-faced" Thompson. Thompson left the scene and returned with Gibson and Greer and one of them fired the gun at the house, according to the affidavit.

The state re-opened their case Friday morning calling Lufkin Police Department Cpl. Travis Strickland back to the stand. Strickland was one of the primary investigators on the murder case.

Strickland explained how he chose what surveillance video to obtain in the murder investigation.

Then, Carswell played a recorded jail conversation between Gibson and Thompson. Gibson was in jail.

Thompson accuses him of calling another girl in the recording and tells him she's pregnant with his baby.

"Baby chill out," Gibson tells her. "I'm not doing nothing."

After the recording, the state rested and closed.

The defense then presented another taped jailhouse conversation between Gibson and Thompson.

In the conversation, Thompson again is accusing Gibson of being unfaithful to her.

"She's not even on my list to come see me," Gibson said of another woman.

Thompson tells Gibson she had to get someone to cover her shift so she could come visit him.

With the final recording played, the defense also closed their case.

Friday morning Judge Bryan read the charge to the jury.

Around 10 a.m. the attorneys began addressing the jury in their closing arguments. The jury began deliberating a verdict at 11:10 a.m.

Carswell told jurors at this point they have to decide if Thompson was a key player in the murder.

"Did she encourage somebody to participate in that shooting," asked Carswell. "Did she help anybody to do the shooting that killed Joseph Cooper?"

She talked about the witnesses jurors have heard from and photographs they have been shown.

"In Texas if you are in the course of committing a felony and you do an act clearly dangerous to human life that causes the death of somebody ... you can be found guilty of murder," said Carswell.

"Is Kendall Thompson a party to this crime?" asked Carswell. "Is she a party to this murder, to this drive-by?"

She said if they apply the law to the facts and the evidence, they should find beyond a reasonable doubt that she is guilty of playing a role in the deadly shooting.

She said if it wasn't for Thompson getting Greer involved, there wouldn't be a shooter in the case.

"But for Kendall Thompson, we wouldn't have had a Johnx Greer," Carswell said.

Carswell mentioned Gibson's testimony where he said he had a plan to go to the Cottonbelt Street home just to talk the night of the murder.

"But for her, we wouldn't be here ... neither of these guys had a problem at the 'Belt," said Carswell. "They had no beef with the people on Cottonbelt ... They're there because this lady went and got them because she had to prove a point: nobody is going to lay hands on Kendall Thompson."

She brought up when a friend found a bullet casing on Thompson's car the day of the shooting.

Carswell pointed out how Greer was talking to Thompson on the phone a lot the night of the murder.

"Was Kendall upset enough and scared enough to go back to the 'Belt?" asked Carswell. "A little girl who was pissed off and fighting mad."

She said Thompson wanted Greer to do what she knew Gibson wouldn't do because the people at the Cottonbelt house were his family.

Carswell said all Thompson's lies undermine her credibility.

The state said the jurors have to ask themselves, "Why does she lie to the cops over and over and over less than 36 hours after that man has been killed?"

"Kendall Thompson ... is responsible for the murder as a result of this drive-by," Carswell concluded.

Thompson's attorney began addressing the jury. He reiterated that his client was not a murderer.

"They want you to believe that this girl is the one who formulated that plan, but I tell you, they've got the wrong girl," said Charanza.

He said Lufkin Police worked hard and their evidence proves she's not guilty. The defense said the state has tried to align their case around Gibson who has given five different statements to police.

"Kendall doesn't like guns," Charanza said. He went on to say his client doesn't even like guns in her car.

He said Gibson doesn't want to give the truth because he's protecting Greer.

Charanza admitted Greer is Thompson's drug dealer, but they're not close friends.

The defense agreed she may have not told the whole truth to police originally.

"There's no doubt she left things out ... but consistently she told the same story," said Charanza.

He pointed out she's not on trial for obstruction, but for murder.

He said to convict Thompson, jurors have to believe Gibson beyond a reasonable doubt.  He said his client did not aid or assist in the shooting.

"They want you to believe that Kendall Thompson wanted to drive back to 705 Cottonbelt after she...was not comfortable there," said Charanza.

He pointed out the first time Thompson went to Cottonbelt, she dropped her friends off and drove around the block. He said Thompson had already been there once and seen two girls get beat, so she would not want to go back over there.

Charanza said the people on Cottonbelt that night weren't Gibson's real family, they're his "Blood" gang family.

"She's just merely a witness to a murder," said Charanza. He said Narvlee "Sierra" Young is the real girl responsible for setting up the shooting, not Thompson.

"Joe Cooper truly was an innocent victim," said the defense attorney. "Kendall feels for his family ... and Joe Cooper ... was a good man."

"Kendall never wanted that ... she's not that type of character," said Charanza. "She's not a killer, she's not a murderer."

"Vote not guilty, vote not guilty because she's not guilty of this crime," urged Charanza.

"Just because you vote not guilty ... does not mean that she is free because she will have the burden of always knowing that she lied to the police," said Charanza.

"If you are convinced in your heart of hearts that she's not guilty, then stand," said Charanza in closing.

Carswell rebutted that they arrested three people and indicted all of them in this case.

"We didn't choose her first," said Carswell.

The prosecution went over how much Thompson lied to authorities.

"Johnx had no reason to be in the car that night," said Carswell.

Carswell said Thompson was using Narvlee "Sierra" Young's phone that night to call Greer and formulate a plan. She said it was not Young calling Greer.

The prosecution brought up Thompson's drug use while she was pregnant.

"She's a liar," said Carswell.

"It boils down to one issue, did she drive that car," said Carswell. "If you're driving a car to the scene of the crime, aren't you in control?"

"She must have been pretty desperate that night and pretty pissed off …to let Johnx in the car with a gun," said Carswell.

She said mere presence at a crime is not enough, but they have more evidence.

"She's in the driver's seat, Johnx is behind her and June says her last words ... before the shots rang out is 'don't do it,'" said Carswell. "She knew what he was going to do."

The jury began deliberating at 11:10 a.m.

If Thompson is found guilty, the jury will assess her punishment.

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