HUNTINGTON - After six hours of deliberation, a Cabell County jury on Friday found Micah LeMaster not guilty of murder in the 2015 shooting of 21-year-old Joshua Martin.
LeMaster, 38, was charged with first-degree murder in the shooting, but claims self-defense, accusing Martin of attempting to break into his Donald Avenue home while naked before the shots killing Martin were fired in two encounters within minutes of each other.
Assistant prosecutors Sharon Frazier and Peggy Brown argued LeMaster's use of force after exiting his barricaded door was unnecessary. Along with normal locks, the door had Plexiglas screwed into its frame and a reinforcement bar across the threshold.
The jury was charged with determining whether LeMaster was guilty or not guilty of first-degree or the lesser crimes of second-degree murder or voluntary manslaughter.
Martin's family cried out in disbelief as the verdict was read Friday evening.
"How can you tell someone, 'I'll shoot you dead,' and you're not guilty?" one of Martin's supporters said.
"You have no idea. No idea. None," another shouted at Cabell Circuit Judge Paul T. Farrell.
LeMaster hugged his attorneys before leaving the room.
Defense attorney Rich Weston said the verdict was not surprising.
"Citizens have the right to defend themselves, and the jury's courageous verdict confirms that," he said.
The jury was handed the case at about 2 p.m. Friday after closing arguments, and the verdict came just before 8 p.m.
Before closing arguments Friday, the prosecution called Don Baker, the music director of a church Martin attended, and Tammy Clements, Martin's mother. Both said Martin was a sweet, kind-spirited teenager who tried to uplift individuals and was not depressed.
Clements said she last saw Martin in the early evening of March 17 and he appeared to be mentally OK. Clements broke down in tears as Brown presented a photo of Martin taken before his death.
"That's my baby," she said.
Weston said he could not disprove Martin's behavior before the night of the shooting, but said during the shooting, at about 3:15 a.m. March 18, he was different.
"The man that showed up on (LeMaster's) doorstep that night, he didn't know who he was," he said. "All he knew was it was someone saying some of the craziest stuff he ever heard. He knew there was a guy outside who said he was going to shoot him. All he knew was that a guy who was clearly high or crazy decided to charge back at him to get in his gate."
According to toxicology reports and witness statements, Martin had ingested mushrooms and marijuana in the 500 block of 24th Street West in the hours before the shooting.
In original statements to police, Martin's girlfriend, Olivia Boso, said Martin was acting erratically by sleeping and running into her car as it drove away from the residence. She said she was in fear for her life and drove to Ravenswood, West Virginia, that evening. On Wednesday, Boso said she was not afraid of Martin, but was scared of the people inside the home.
Martin was wounded twice as LeMaster shot three times through his front door and a closed screen door. The third bullet struck a neighboring home.
Prosecutors believe Martin was shot in the buttocks and stomach while on the steps. Weston and defense attorney Connor Robertson believe Martin was on the porch and was hit in the arm, not the stomach.
Martin left the property as LeMaster exited the home, which Weston said LeMaster had the right to do.
"(He) was not the aggressor by opening the door. He didn't know what was going on out there," he said. "That the porch light was off, there was a big blind over the door - he doesn't know if (Martin) was getting ready to jump through a window. He doesn't know what is going on. He is fully entitled to open that door."
Law enforcement and use-of-force expert Dennis Root testified earlier this week LeMaster made the best decisions he could during a high-stress event. Root testified that peripheral vision shrinks and blood vessels constrict in stressful situations, making it hard to make decisions.
Factors like perceived size, mindset and physical ability all go into what a person might consider when evaluating a threat level, Root said.
Frazier said LeMaster opening the door created the threat, not Martin.
"If (LeMaster) felt threatened, he would not have exposed himself to that threat. He would not have opened that door and exposed his children to that threat," she said. "He would have stayed inside. He did not act out of threat or fear for his safety or his children's. He didn't feel threatened to call the police. He was taking this into his own hands."
LeMaster's wife, Dr. Elizabeth Mott, testified this week Martin was attempting to break into a neighbor's car during the altercation and LeMaster was telling him to leave. Blood trails do not line up with that testimony, prosecutors said in their closing arguments.
Martin turned back toward the LeMaster property after a period of time in a neighbor's yard, which included him going to the backyard, but turning away at a 6-foot-tall fence with a drop-off behind it. As he crossed Donald Avenue back toward the LeMaster home, he was shot four more times - in the groin, wrist, shoulder and head, Huntington Police Lt. Dave Castle testified.
It is unclear whether LeMaster chased Martin, but he was placed by Mott outside his fence and yards to the north of the gate entrance to their yard. Robertson claimed the sidewalk to still be LeMaster's property, which he said was poured at one point by private purchase.
Defense argued Martin had superhuman strength and felt no pain, which was apparent by his jumping fences and the distance he ran. Prosecutors indicated Martin can be heard moaning in the background of Mott's 911 call, and said the final four bullets were fired in a downward angle, indicating Martin was falling or bending over at the waist during his last moments.
Brown said the jury could set a dangerous precedent for homeowners in the county.
"I'm asking that you tell the people of Cabell County that it is not acceptable to shoot someone who comes to your door," she said. "Even in the middle of the night, and thereafter pursue them and shoot them dead."
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