Crime

Defense offers alibi witnesses as jury prepares for deliberations in trial of slain Marine

Quincinio Canada, one of two men on trial in the murder of U.S. Marine Cpl. Jonathan Price, spoke Wednesday with Karen Alexander, a mitigation specialist for his defense team.
Quincinio Canada, one of two men on trial in the murder of U.S. Marine Cpl. Jonathan Price, spoke Wednesday with Karen Alexander, a mitigation specialist for his defense team. mdorsey@herald-leader.com

A Fayette Circuit Court jury will begin deliberating Monday in the trial of two men charged in the 2014 murder of a Marine corporal.

The prosecution and defense rested Thursday, the fourth anniversary of the fatal shooting of Cpl. Jonathan Price and the wounding of his wife, Megan, in the parking lot outside Austin City Saloon in Woodhill Center. The prosecution will call a rebuttal witness for brief testimony on Monday, but then the jury will hear closing arguments and instructions before starting deliberations.

At stake are the fates of Quincinio Canada and Dawan Mulazim, who are charged on murder, assault and robbery counts. If convicted, they could face the death penalty.

Perhaps the most significant defense witness was Joy Birch, who said she was with Mulazim on June 20 and into the early morning hours of June 21, 2014. Birch was presented as an alibi witness because she said she was with Mulazim until 2 a.m. June 21. The Prices were shot at about 1:30 a.m. on June 21.

Birch said she had no reason to lie because "I can't say I've known him (Mulazim) a long time."

Birch said she and Mulazim went to Camelot East, a strip club. Another defense witness, Deonne Green, testified that she saw Mulazim at Camelot East.

The separate defense teams for Mulazim and Canada have said all along that Lexington police arrested the wrong suspects in connection with the Price shootings. The defense also maintains that there is no physical evidence that connects the two men to a Quality Inn robbery six days earlier in which a .45-caliber semiautomatic handgun was stolen. Police say that gun was the weapon that killed Jonathan Price.

Thursday was a busy day for the trial. It began with Fayette Circuit Judge Pamela Goodwine denying defense motions that sought to halt the trial.

The defense had filed a motionfor a mistrial, arguing that some evidence was not provided before trial as required.

But Goodwine overruled that motion, which she said was “not appropriate,” and said the trial will go forward.

Megan Price, wife of slain Marine Jonathan Price, testifies in court Thursday and reacts to a recording of her 911 call after the attack that resulted in the death of her husband.

Goodwine also denied a defense motion for a “directed verdict.” The defense argued that there was insufficient evidence for a jury to convict Canada or Mulazim. Such motions are routinely made by defense attorneys once the prosecution has finished presenting its evidence in a criminal trial.

Chris Tracy, a defense attorney for Canada, argued that no physical evidence connects Canada to the June 15, 2014, motel robbery.

The defense also noted that Megan Price testified that a revolver was used to shoot her husband and that a silver semiautomatic handgun was used to shoot her.

Neither description matches the stolen black .45-caliber semiautomatic handgun that police say was used in the shootings.

Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Kimberly Baird said the jury can determine what weight to give to Megan Price’s testimony.

Goodwine denied the defense motions for directed verdict.

After the judge’s ruling, Lindsay Perdue, a defense attorney for Canada, gave an opening statement to the jury. Canada’s defense team chose to wait to give an opening statement until the prosecution rested.

Mulazim’s defense team gave its opening statement last week, just before the first prosecution witness was called.

As the Mulazim defense has argued, Perdue said Lexington police “zeroed in” on Canada and Mulazim, and “ignored information along the way” that pointed to their innocence.

Perdue said police “were under extreme pressure” to solve the case. She asked jurors to look at the “magnitude of evidence” that does not point to Canada.

jonathan and megan price.jpg
Jonathan and Megan Price

Most of Thursday afternoon's testimony came from Dr. Jeffrey Neuschatz, a psychologist who teaches and does research at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. Neuschatz has done research on the accuracy and reliability of eyewitness identifications.

Neuschatz and a fellow researcher wrote a book that said a mistaken eyewitness identifications are a contributing cause in many wrongful convictions.

The defense called Neuschatz to introduce doubt about whether Canada and Mulazim were wrongly identified as suspects, particularly in the motel robbery.

For example, covering a hairline with a cap can make it more difficult to make an accurate identification. Stress can make it more difficult, too.

If people's eyes are focused on a weapon, they miss other aspects of the scene they're witnessing, Neuschatz said. And research indicates that people have an easier time making an accurate identification of people of the same race than of people of a different race.

So in the case of the motel robbery, all those factors were present and can reduce confidence in the identification of suspects, he said.

Baird showed Neuschatz the written instructions that the motel robbery victims were given. One instruction said "you should not feel you have to make an identification."

Neuschatz agreed that is a key instruction to give witnesses when shown photo lineups.

Jessica Hansford testifies Wednesday during the trial for the death of U.S. Marine Jonathan Price, recounting being robbed at gunpoint at the Newtown Court Quality Inn by the same men who supposedly shot, killed Jonathan.

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