Not guilty verdict delivered in Trenton murder trial for 2013 death
Keith Wells-Holmes embraced his attorney, thanked her for saving his life and promised to attend college moments after a jury acquitted him of gunning down a Trenton man in 2013 in a brazen broad daylight shooting captured by city surveillance cameras outside the apartment complex.
A jury deliberated for about six hours over two days before returning the not guilty verdict Wednesday in Mercer County Superior Court to counts of murder and weapons offenses.
Before arriving at their decision, they reviewed footage of Wells-Holmes’ Jan. 21, 2013 visits to a relative’s Oakland Street apartment as well as footage of the shooter unloading multiple rounds on Andre Corbett at point-blank range. Jurors watched several camera angles and asked prosecutors to zoom in on Wells-Holmes and the gunman, looking for discernible differences in their appearance.
After the jury forewoman read the not guilty verdict aloud in court, Wells-Holmes’ attorney, Caroline Turner, asked the court to order her client released immediately.
“I always knew he was innocent,” Turner said following the verdict. “Everything I checked out [about his story] came back exactly like he said.”
As part of a third-party guilt defense, Turner contended Isiah Greene, who was never charged in Corbett’s slaying but faces murder and attempted murder charges in separate unrelated cases, was the real killer.
Greene’s DNA was found on a cup discovered inside a gold van linked with the murder.
Turner pointed to differences in appearance between her client and the shooter. The state relied on a patchwork of surveillance footage and crucial testimony from a Mercer County detective and convicted felon and admitted drug dealer Michael “Murder Mike” Barnes.
Turner attacked Barnes’ credibility, referring to him as a jailhouse snitch and said he could not be trusted after he came forward with information about Corbett’s killer a year later, when he found himself jailed on a litany of charges.
Turner was convinced the case boiled down to the jury’s attentiveness to essential details, such as clothing and the suspect’s dominant hand. Wells-Holmes is left-handed whereas the suspect shot with his right hand.
Jurors did not hear from Wells-Holmes directly as he chose not to testify in his own defense. But they listened to Wells-Holmes’ taped police interview a second time Wednesday. Wells-Holmes denied any involvement in Corbett’s murder but appeared to trip over himself when detectives pressed him about his whereabouts the day of the murder, when he said he had not visited family on Oakland Street for several days.
Wells-Holmes stammered when detectives told him surveillance captured him on Oakland Street the day of the murder. Turner insisted her client was truthful with authorities and simply mixed up his days.
His codefendant, Zihqwan “Woodiey” Clemens, was granted immunity to testify in this murder trial and got on the stand and exonerated Wells-Holmes saying neither was around when Corbett was shot.
It’s unclear how much weight jurors gave to Clemens’ testimony. Most jurors left immediately after the verdict was read and a female juror who was still sitting outside the courthouse steps declined to comment on the verdict.
While the jury ultimately agreed with Turner’s assertion that prosecutors had the wrong man, Assistant Prosecutor James Scott said the evidence pointed at Wells-Holmes.
“I do think we had the right person,” he said. “We have to respect the jury’s verdict.”
Scott said the acquittal would not affect prosecutors’ case against Clemens, who is being tried separately. A trial date has not been set for Clemens, who has been offered a 30-year sentence for allegedly driving the getaway car.