The 7-man, 5-woman jury empaneled in the first degree murder trial against Richard Conway came back with a guilty verdict after more than 2 hours of deliberations Friday evening.
Conway was thus convicted of murdering 50-year-old Cheryl Roberts by inflicting a fatal gunshot to her head on Nov. 3, 2009, from which she later died at St. Anthony's Hospital on Nov. 4, 2009.
Also in its verdict, the jury recommended Conway receive a life sentence in prison with possibility of parole.
If Associate District Judge Ray Dean Linder agrees with that sentence, then the 58-year-old Conway would have to serve at least 38 years and 3 months in prison before becoming eligible for parole.
In instructions to the jury, Linder said a life sentence is considered to be 45 years and by statute 85 percent of that term must be served before an inmate becomes eligible for parole, which is 38 years and 3 months.
Linder will make a formal ruling on sentencing on Feb. 11 at 2:30 p.m.
ATTORNEYS' REACTIONS TO VERDICT
Although the jury did not return with the life without parole sentence he had requested in his final closing arguments, Assistant District Attorney Danny Lohmann said he was still satisfied with its recommendation.
Lohmann said considering Conway's current age and the length of time he will have to serve, if there is no successful appeal, "he may not ever get out of prison alive."
Assistant District Attorney Westline Ritter, who also assisted in the prosecution, said the state was "happy with the verdict."
"We feel justice was done," Ritter said.
Defense attorney Cynthia Viol said the defense was "well, obvious(ly) disappointed" in the verdict, noting "I thought we fought a good fight."
Nevertheless, Viol said "I respect the jury's verdict, they worked very hard."
In fact, both the defense and state's attorneys as well as the judge, all complimented the jury on how well they paid attention throughout the trial and how seriously they took their job.
A couple of the female jurors even seemed a little tearful as all 12 members were polled as to whether the guilty verdict was a unanimous decision.
"We will file an appeal," Viol said of the defense's next step in the case.
She said the filing of an appeal is standard procedure in cases involving a life sentence.
BEFORE THE VERDICT
Jurors based their verdict on more than 40 pieces of evidence entered by both sides that ranged from the gun used in the shooting to photos from Roberts' autopsy to an approximately 3-hour police interview of Conway performed by Woodward Police detectives on Dec. 21, 2009.
They also based their verdict on testimony heard from 13 witnesses for the prosecution, including several OSBI experts, and 4 witnesses called by the defense, including Conway who testified on his own behalf for about 2 hours Friday morning as the first degree murder trial against him continued into its 4th day.
While on the stand, Conway testified to the events of Nov. 3, 2009, or at least those he could remember.
Essentially he claimed to remember events leading up to when he said Roberts pulled his gun on him and threatened him because she wanted money. But after that point, Conway said he could not remember exact events, although he claimed he fought Roberts for the gun.
He said he also could not remember making the 9-1-1 call, but knew he must have, having heard the recording of the call that was presented to the jury on Wednesday.
Assistant District Attorney Danny Lohmann accused Conway of having a “convenient memory.”
“The things you have a foggy memory about are the things that are not good for your case, isn't that right?” Lohmann said. “And the things you remember vividly are the things that are helpful to your case, isn't that right?” Conway answered no to both questions.
However, Viol asked Conway “what's the one thing that you do know for sure?”
“That I meant no harm to her (Roberts),” he said.
“Did you take this gun and raise it up and shoot it with the intent to kill her?” Viol asked. Conway said, “No.”
Also during his testimony, after questioning by both Viol and Lohmann, Conway admitted to having lied about his initial reports to police that Roberts had shot herself in the head.
Viol asked why he lied and he said he didn't know.
Lohmann asked “why should the jury believe you today?”
Conway said, “that's for them to decide.”
The jury apparently did not believe his statements Friday as evidenced by the guilty verdict.
ELEMENTS OF THE CRIME
As part of the instructions, jurors were told that in order to find Conway guilty of first degree murder they must have found that the state proved 4 elements "beyond a reasonable doubt," as follows:
1. The death of a human being.
2. That death was unlawful.
3. That death was caused by the defendant.
4. And that death was caused with malice aforethought.
The jurors were informed that malice aforethought means "the deliberate intention to take away the life of a human being."
In its guilty verdict, the jury disagreed with Conway's attorney who submitted in her closing argument that the state did not prove malice aforethought, which she said was the essential issue in the case, as the defense did not deny the first three elements.
"Mr. Conway is not blameless; he is not without blame in the death of Cheryl Roberts," Viol said.
However, she maintained "it's more probable than not that they did fight for the gun" and Roberts was shot accidentally during that scuffle.
The state during its closing statements argued that regardless of whether Roberts or Conway originally brought out the gun, in the end Conway pulled the trigger.
Pointing to statements Conway made during his 3-hour police interview on Dec. 21, 2009, Lohmann argued that Conway had the gun down by his side, raised it up, pointed it at Roberts and then shot her.
He demonstrated his argument with the .25 caliber semi-automatic pistol that was admitted into evidence and a styrofoam head to represent Roberts.
With gun in hand, Lohmann said, "The last thing that Cheryl saw was her friend pointing this weapon, this pistol, this semi-automatic firearm with this muzzle end inches from her head; the last thing she saw was this and the flash of the deadly blast."