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Jury acquits man charged in truck-wash slaying

After deliberating for 14½ hours over two days, a Fayette County jury found Marc Buchanan not guilty on all counts in a 2003 slaying at a Lexington truck stop.

Buchanan, 25, who was charged with murder and robbery in the slaying of Carl Gene McClung in August 2003, was to be released from the Fayette County Detention Center Tuesday afternoon. The verdict was reached at 1:45 p.m.

“I think the jury did what a jury is supposed to do,” defense attorney Scott Drabenstadt said. “They held the Commonwealth to their burden. There just wasn’t sufficient evidence here.”

Prosecutors accused Buchanan and Jeremy D. Rice of robbing and murdering McClung of West Virginia, while he was sleeping in his cattle truck at the Scrub-a-Truck wash on Nandino Boulevard.

DNA testing linked hair at the scene to Rice, who was convicted of complicity to murder and robbery in September 2006.

But no physical evidence linked Buchanan to the crime. Prosecutors had to rely on convicted felons to build their case against Buchanan. A few of the witnesses received plea deals in exchange for their testimony.

“When you get right down to it, this is the difficulty in dealing with urban violent crime,” Commonwealth’s Attorney Ray Larson said. “We have to deal with the witnesses the defendant chose.”

Larson said the criminal histories of prosecution witnesses was a problem. Lacking physical evidence, police and prosecutors tried to find corroboration for witness testimony, Larson said.

“They found him not guilty,” Larson said. “They did not find him innocent.”

Buchanan’s mother and father declined to comment after the verdict. They said they wanted to be respectful to McClung’s family.

Two relatives of McClung left the court house shortly after the verdict was announced and could not immediately be reached for comment.

A juror who agreed to be interviewed said the jury struggled with the decision.

When the jury took its initial vote, three were undecided, five voted guilty and four voted not guilty, said Brian Hale, 34, of Lexington.

At one point, the jury was deadlocked 6-6. The jurors worried they would not reach a verdict.

Hale initially voted guilty. But he changed his mind after reviewing the testimony of Buchanan’s uncle, Richard Morrison, who said Buchanan confessed to him while in jail.

Morrison’s testimony was inconsistent and even got the ethnicity of the victim wrong, Hale said. On top of that, Morrison acknowledged that Arian Brown — a convicted felon whom the defense argued was really behind the slaying — told him he was trying to make sure Buchanan took the fall, Hale said.

“We felt like in our hearts that he was guilty, but there just was not enough substantial proof that put him at the scene,” Hale said. “There was no DNA, there were no fingerprints.”

The Herald-Leader attempted to contact all 12 jurors. The other 11 either could not be reached for comment, declined to comment or did not return phone messages.

In the trial, prosecutors said Tommy Carpenter, of Lexington, drove Rice and Buchanan to the truck stop. Rice worked at the Scrub-a-Truck.

They said Rice got into a struggle with McClung, who had a knife. They believe Buchanan shot McClung when it appeared he was getting the best of Rice.

Carpenter told police that he drove the men to the truck stop. But he denied knowing they were planning a robbery.Carpenter was never charged.

Larson was non-committal about whether Carpenter would be charged, or whether prosecutors will pursue perjury charges against witnesses who recanted their stories. He said his office will review the trial.

The break in the investigation came when Brown told police in early 2004 that Buchanan and Rice killed McClung, prosecutors said at trial. Police had no leads at that time.

Brown testified at trial, as did his brother, Adrian. Both repudiated their prior statements to police.

Hale said he did not rule out the testimony of prosecution witnesses just because they were convicted felons. But the problem was their stories were inconsistent.

“Not that the prosecutors did a bad job; I mean, they did what they could with what they had,” Hale said. “We all felt like they just needed that one more piece of evidence — that one critical witness. And I think that would have changed a lot.”

The jury was not told of Buchanan’s criminal record: a conviction in 2000 for robbing a Taco Bell. During trials, jurors are not allowed to learn the criminal history of defendants.

Hale said that is something that might have changed some jurors’ minds.

“It makes you rethink things,” Hale said. “I guess that is part of the problem with being a juror. You don’t get all the history of this person. And truthfully, we didn’t feel like we knew all of the facts of what really happened.”