Man not guilty in church beating

| May 6, 2010

A stolid Harry Victor Wilson began to cry Wednesday after learning a Hinds County jury found him not guilty of depraved heart murder related to the death of a man breaking into a church nearly five years ago.

"This has been an ordeal. I'm glad it's over. This has been tough," Wilson, 31, said in the courthouse hallway.

Donald Gregory Middleton, 46, of Jackson, was breaking into Progressive Baptist Church on Powers Avenue when Wilson and some friends attempted to stop Middleton on Aug. 11, 2005.

A few minutes later, Middleton was dead. He died of a heart attack after being beaten, an autopsy showed.

Wilson and two other men were charged in Middlelton's death. The other two pleaded to related charges.

The jury deliberated three hours Wednesday before acquitting Wilson.

During closing arguments, defense attorney Aafram Sellers said Wilson should not have faced depraved heart murder and blamed Middleton for the stress that took his life.

Sellers asked the jury, "What kind of a man would break into a church?

"A person with a depraved heart," Sellers answered.

"What's reckless is a person who has a bad heart, takes drugs and breaks into a church."

Forensic pathologist Steven Hayne testified the autopsy showed Middleton had a bad heart and a small amount of cocaine in his system.

The prosecution maintained both Wilson and George Smith caused Middleton's death.

Smith, 25, of Jackson, pleaded guilty to manslaughter last year and was given 15 years to serve in prison. Testifying as a prosecution witness on Tuesday, Smith said he and Wilson hit and stomped Middleton.

However, defense witness Akeema Banks testified she saw Wilson hit Middleton once after Middleton swung at him with his fist. She said Smith hit and kicked the victim while Middleton was on the ground.

The other defendant, Ricky Lee, 39, originally was charged with murder but pleaded guilty in January to hindering prosecution. He was sentenced to five years in prison with seven months suspended and given credit for time served. He was released the same day, Jan. 25.

In closing arguments, Sellers told the jury churches have become targets for addicts seeking to fund their habits with stolen goods.

"Our churches are under attack. The first person I see when I get to church is a security guard," Sellers said.

But speaking to jurors, Rusty Fortenberry, a special prosecutor on the case, attempted to bring the focus back to the victim.

"He did something I personally disagree with, but Greg (Middleton) was a living, breathing human being," Fortenberry said. "… Yes, he broke windows out of a church, but is it worth a human life?"

Scott Newton and Fortenberry volunteered to prosecute the case after Hinds County District Attorney Robert Shuler Smith removed his office because he once represented Wilson in private practice.

Newton said he was disappointed for Middleton's family but respected the jury's decision.

Middleton's mother, Doris Middleton, said she can accept the jury's decision.

"It's tough, but that's the way it goes either guilty or not guilty," she said.

But Middleton said she has no doubt that Wilson helped kill her son. "If he can sleep with it, so be it," she said.

 

http://www.clarionledger.com/article/20100506/NEWS/5060337/1001/news

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Category: Church Security

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