The case of a Colorado Springs man arrested with the severed finger of a slain homeless man in his pocket is in the hands of a jury.
The question panelists must answer: Did Jordan Rowland have a choice when he participated in the August 2011 slaying of William Mickle, who suffered at least 20 chop wounds to the head and face before his throat was cut?
Defense attorneys say Rowland played a minor role in the attack under the threat of death by an older, gang-affiliated associate. Prosecutors say Rowland eagerly killed Mickle in hopes of being welcomed into his "gang" - and had ample opportunity to reconsider his course before each strike of the hatchet.
The jury began deliberating at roughly 4 p.m. Wednesday, after closing arguments before 4th Judicial District Judge David A. Gilbert. Deliberations continue Thursday morning.
According to his attorneys, Rowland, 20, is a patsy for the real killers, whom they identified in court as Roger Julius "Brooklyn" Glover, 37, and a fellow homeless man who remains uncharged in the case.
Glover, who went on trial in November for soliciting Mickle's death, was convicted of first-degree murder and is serving a life sentence.
During rousing closing arguments in front of a capacity courtroom, public defender Julian Rosielle charged that Rowland witnessed Mickle's bloodletting behind the Sienna Place Apartments, 1610 Lenmar Drive, and was made to stab his dead body under threat of death by Glover, a man who burnished a fearsome reputation among members of the city's homeless community by bragging about his violent past and supposed gang ties in New York City.
Had Rowland refused, he feared he would have been killed along with his girlfriend, a runaway teen whom he vowed to protect and provide for, attorneys said.
Prosecutors Beth Reed and Jennifer Viehman all but sneered over the claim Rowland had no options, noting that he made no effort to report the threat or seek help for Mickle, himself or his then-girlfriend.
During his arrest at the Penrose Library a day after the killing, Rowland tried to pin the blame on the girl when an officer reached into his front pocket and pulled out Mickle's severed finger, found wrapped in a paper napkin.
"Oh, Kiki - the love of my life," Viehman ripped in a mocking tone, leading one juror to flash a wide smile, which she covered with her hand.
The courtroom was drained of mirth, however, as prosecutors flashed gruesome images of the slaying's aftermath - including a picture of five loose teeth recovered from inside the victim's throat.
One juror gasped and covered her mouth before looking toward Mickle's mother, Deborah, who sat doubled over in her seat. A male juror's face went deep red, and he leaned back in his seat and closed his eyes.
The two-week trial led to head-scratching moments as friends of Mickle and Glover tried to explain the stories they relayed to police, which included references to fictional people, conspiracies involving "The Beehive Sector" and even paranormal phenomena, as when one witness suggested that to really understand their relationship, jurors must recognize that Rowland and Mickle were "werewolves" battling for supremacy.
Prosecutors took aim at several of their own witnesses, accusing them of changing their stories on the stand to protect Rowland and themselves.
In a case that began with the killing of a "snitch," one witness had to be moved to a different ward at the El Paso County jail because he was identified as a witness against Rowland in an anonymous note left in a courtyard.
Mickle, 20, was consistently described as a kindhearted young man whose life came unmoored when he left his mother's Colorado Springs house, went off his medication for bipolar disorder and began spending more time with his street-dwelling friends. Although he repeatedly clashed with Glover and Rowland, the trio was part of the same loose-knit group of friends and hung out together in Acacia Park in downtown Colorado Springs.
Prosecutors say Mickle became a target for his "big mouth," with at least one witness saying Glover was convinced that Mickle was snitching to police about the older man's pot trade in Acacia Park.
In addressing jurors, Reed said the murder plot took shape in the "invisible world" of the city's homeless, populated by "misfits" who struggled with mental illness, drug abuse and the daily toll of survival on the streets.
Rosielle said police stopped digging the moment they recovered Mickle's finger from Rowland's pocket.
Viehman said evidence clearly established that one man was responsible.
Contact Lance Benzel: 636-0366
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