The trial for Travon Williams, accused of fatally shooting Jacobsen Laumoli outside an Independence house party in October 2016, ended in mistrial Thursday due to a hung jury.
Williams, 23, had been charged with second-degree murder and armed criminal action. The jury of eight men and four women at the Eastern Jackson County Courthouse in Independence deliberated for about 3½ hours Thursday before it informed the judge it was deadlocked and would not be able to reach a unanimous verdict on either count. Circuit Judge Kenneth Garrett had instructed the jury that if it could not find Williams guilty of second-degree murder, it had to consider involuntary manslaughter.
A new trial has been scheduled for Jan. 22.
Williams and Laumoli had been at parties at neighboring eastern Independence houses the early hours of Oct. 30, 2016. Laumoli and a friend had started to walk away from their party when, according to court documents, the friend was taunted by guys at the other party regarding his Samoan clothing and a fight started on the small front porch.
The homeowner retrieved his handgun as the fight began but never used it. Williams then allegedly grabbed the gun and fired twice. Laumoli, who was not part of the fight, was hit in the back. The bullet tore through his lungs and heart, and he died on the street in front of the house.
Williams' public defender, Douglas Smith, argued that Williams had acted in lawful defense of another man who was being beaten. He said the man being beaten had a partially detached ear and couldn't remember parts of the fight or the gunshots because of brain damage, and his friend, homeowner Tim Humphries, feared the man might get thrown over the railing.
“Tim said he was yelling for his friends to help Josh, but nobody did, until Mr. Williams stepped up,” Smith said. “He came to the aid of a defenseless man who was being severely attacked.”
Smith said if Williams wanted to shoot the man doing the beating, he could have, but instead fired what some witnesses thought might have been a warning shot. Furthermore, as Williams fled the scene he ejected a live round from the gun.
“He used less force than he could have,” Smith said, also floating the idea that the fatal bullet could have come from another shooter. “That force was enough, and the beating stopped.”
Prosecutors Hallie Williams and Traci Stansell dismissed the “phantom shooter” theory and downplayed how dangerous the fight leading up to the shooting had been.
Williams said that even as Humphries had grabbed a gun, no one felt enough enough fear or danger to try to intervene in the fist-beating.
“Why is he (Travon Williams) the chosen one?” she said. “Nobody else believed he was in trouble until he fired a gun.”
“He brought a gun to a fistfight. He asked for (the gun), when Tim said no, he grabbed it anyways.”
“It wasn't his (Tim's) goal to shoot anybody to break up a fist fight,” Stansell added. “This defendant didn't step up to be a hero. …He was going to be a badass.”
Hallie Williams said that if Travon Williams had been acting in lawful defense, he could have stayed and fessed up.
“It would've been easy; it would've been simple,” she said.
Instead, he tried to get someone to take the gun and hide it, and when that didn't work fled and threatened to shoot anyone who tried to stop him.
Stansell said that if the man being beaten had brain damage, he wouldn't have been released from the hospital after being stitched up.
“He got hit in the ear, and he had to get stitches,” Stansell said. “He was so drunk he couldn't remember anything.”
Countering the defense's point that while witnesses mentioned two shots and police only found shell casing, Stansell said it is easy for shell casings to get kicked or otherwise lost from a crime scene, particularly in the chaos of people leaving that party after the shooting.
“The fact they only found one shell casing doesn't mean there weren't two shots fired,” she said.
According to court documents, Williams denied to police that he was at the the party, but multiple witnesses placed Williams, whom police identified from surveillance footage and a previous mugshot, at the scene and as the shooter.