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Conviction overturned in '08 slaying of MU standout

Oct. 17, 2013 @ 11:21 PM

CHARLESTON -- The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals has overturned a manslaughter conviction in the July 5, 2008, shooting death of former Marshall University football standout Donte Newsome.

The court released its unanimous opinion Thursday, reversing Jerel Addison Garner's conviction and remanding his case for a new trial.

Garner, 32, had been serving a 21- to 25-year prison sentence for voluntary manslaughter, wanton endangerment and second-offense carrying a concealed weapon, all related to an exchange of gunfire outside of a 4th Avenue nightclub about 3 a.m. July 5, 2008.

Newsome, originally of Chesapeake, Va., played fullback and linebacker for Marshall between 2002 and 2005. He later played two years of indoor football for the Huntington Heroes before moving on to Amarillo, Texas.

The Supreme Court, in overturning the conviction, said a judge erred in he handling oa a cross-examination of a witness. Although the judge's name never appeared in the opinion, The Herald-Dispatch reported at the time that Senior Status Judge L.D. Egnor was presiding over the trial at the time.

The ruling faulted Egnor for interrupting defense attorney Bill Forbes' cross-examination of Ivan Clark, a key witness and friend of Newsome's who also fired gunshots in the exchange that wounded Garner.

Egnor had called upon Forbes to sharpen his questions, as the defense attempted to undermine the prosecution's theory that Garner was the aggressor. He further ordered Forbes, prosecutors and Clark to meet in another room to go over questions the attorney planned to ask.

The unanimous, unsigned opinion called Egnor's order a "bizarre demand" and ruled it denied Garner of his Sixth Amendment right to confront his accuser.

"Cross-examination is an adversarial undertaking," the opinion states. "An important part of an adversarial cross-examination is the demeanor of the witness. An uncooperative witness may be viewed by the jury as less than honest.

"Similarly, a spontaneous reaction by the witness to an unexpected question could be quite revealing as to the veracity of the witness' answer," the opinion continued.

Forbes, in Garner's appeal, argued Egnor's actions were highly improper and prejudicial.

The state Attorney General defended the judge, contending Egnor was "simply frustrated with (Forbes') somewhat rambling cross-examination of Clark," according to Thursday's opinion.

The Supreme Court sided with Forbes, ruling that Egnor's requirement to prepare Clark in advance "eliminated the purpose of cross-examination and rendered it utterly ineffective."

The Supreme Court had appointed Egnor to preside over Garner's trial when a broken heel forced Cabell Circuit Judge Alfred Ferguson from the bench.

The March 2010 jury found Garner innocent of attempted murder, a count that alleged he caused injuries to Newsome's former teammate Curtis Keyes.

Garner remained imprisoned Thursday evening at the McDowell County Correctional Center, according to the state Division of Corrections.

Follow Curtis Johnson at Facebook.com/curtisjohnsonHD and via Twitter @curtisjohnsonHD.

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