His attorneys said the evidence against him was weak.
After a two-week trial in Colorado Springs, a jury agreed.
A seven-man, five-woman panel on Monday returned a rare, blanket acquittal in a local murder case, finding 25-year-old Tyler Scott Williamson not guilty on all counts in the Aug. 19, 2012 shooting of Kevin McCray outside the 2 Dog Tavern on Academy Boulevard in southeast Colorado Springs.
Panelists deliberated for roughly four hours. In interviews after court let out, four jurors said they simply didn't have enough evidence to decide.
"We don't know if he did or didn't," said panelist Jodi Willis, echoing the sentiments of the other jurors who agreed to speak to The Gazette about the case. "There wasn't enough proof to find him guilty, based on the evidence."
Accused of both first- and second-degree murder, Williamson, whose body is adorned with gang tattoos, had faced the potential of life in prison without parole had he been convicted.
Wearing bookish glasses in court that evoked "hipster" rather than "gangster," the defendant nodded his head slightly after the first "not guilty" was announced. But when 4th Judicial District Judge David Shakes completed the reading of the verdict, he burst into long, deep sobs and collapsed in his attorneys' arms, embracing them both as jurors departed the courtroom.
"We are just absolutely excited that Tyler gets to go back to his family, where he belongs," said public defender Dennis McGuire. Referring to Williamson's self-professed gang ties, he said his client is ready "to leave that life behind him."
Said co-counsel Jeremy Loew: "The jury made the right choice."
The defendant remained in custody after the acquittal, but would only be held long enough for his jailers to complete the necessary paperwork for his release, his attorneys said. The trial resolved all outstanding charges against him, McGuire and Loew said.
As Williamson's supporters celebrated in the courtroom, McCray's mother quickly left, weeping as she went.
Her wails echoed through the hallway: "He got out! He got out!" she cried while boarding an elevator. "He killed my son and he got out!"
The case revolved around an early morning attack in the now-closed bar's parking lot during which McCray was hit three times in the back while trying to head off a fight between a friend and one of trio of strangers who approached them in the dark, announcing themselves members of a rival gang.
As the war of words escalated, prosecutors had alleged that Williamson, standing in view of a panicked crowd, peeled off multiple rounds from two weapons before he jumped in a car that took off into the night.
But those eyewitnesses offered varying descriptions of what the shooter was wearing and how he styled his hair - discrepancies Williamson's public defenders seized upon as they accused police of a rush to judgment. Prosecutors countered that descriptions often vary after traumatic episodes and pointed out that several witnesses picked Williamson's photo from a line-up.
Loew and McGuire said Williamson had left the bar before the shooting and said detectives failed to investigate other bar patrons who matched the shooter's description.
The only forensic evidence that was said to link Williamson to the shooting amounted to "two microscopic particles" of gunshot residue found on a "wife beater" in his apartment, McGuire told jurors during a forceful closing argument.
At one point, McGuire donned rubber gloves and cut open a prosecution exhibit containing the jeans Williamson was said be wearing on the night of the killing - revealing a printed Loonie Tunes emblem that couldn't be found in images of Williamson on the bar's surveillance footage.
Showing still frames from the bar's cameras, McGuire raised his voice and asked, "Where's Marvin the Martian?"
Lead prosecutor Brien Cecil told the jury during closing arguments that, if innocent, Williamson was "the unluckiest man on Earth" - because he belonged to the same gang as the shooter, wore clothes like the shooter wore and was hanging around that night with two men who were said to be with the shooter during the slaying.
"We did our best and put forward the best case we could," Cecil said on his way out of the courthouse, adding that prosecutors respected the jury's efforts even as they "respectfully disagree" with the panel's conclusions.
Jurors said they struggled over questions of guilt-versus-innocence but couldn't justify convicting Williamson on the evidence presented.
"He might have done it, but there wasn't enough proof to determine that one way or another," said jury foreman Sean Robinson.
"We weren't going to make a decision just to give the family justice," Willis said.
"There were too many holes," said Joy Massey. "It's a big responsibility."
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