URBANA — A Champaign County jury Friday found there was not proof beyond a reasonable doubt that an Urbana man was responsible for another’s actions in the fatal shooting of Martez Taylor a year ago.
The jury deliberated about 90 minutes before acquitting Cory Jackson, 32, of the July 21, 2018, murder of Mr. Taylor, 27, of Champaign.
Jackson and his attorney, Steve Sarm of Champaign, hugged after getting the news.
A crowd of supporters of both Mr. Taylor and Jackson behaved appropriately in Judge Heidi Ladd’s courtroom, but a few exchanged words outside, prompting police to hasten their dispersal.
The verdict came about 1:30 p.m., after almost three days of testimony from 16 witnesses for the prosecution and five for the defense, many of whom disagreed with what the others were saying.
In closing arguments Friday morning, Assistant State’s Attorney Bridget Schott said the jury should believe the two sisters who testified they saw Jackson hand a gun to the alleged shooter, Keith Campbell, who fired into the car where Mr. Taylor was sitting.
Campbell, 28, has not been found.
“Malaia (Turner) didn’t have it out for Cory. She wasn’t trying to pin it on him for any reason. She testified that way because she saw it,” Schott argued. “She has no motivation to lie. They (Turner and Jackson) were friends. That’s why she’s so hurt, for what he did to her family.”
Malaia Turner was a cousin of Mr. Taylor and the first person to tell Urbana police that Jackson was involved.
In fact, her initial statement was that only Jackson was involved. It wasn’t until later in the investigation that she said Jackson had handed the gun to Campbell, who carried out the killing.
And just a month ago — 14 months after the homicide — her sister, Alisha Turner, went to Urbana police and said that she, too, had seen Jackson hand the gun to Campbell.
Alisha Turner testified she was unwilling to come forward sooner because her sister had been threatened by Keontae Campbell, a brother of Keith Campbell. Once Keontae Campbell was picked up on drugs and weapons charges in mid-September, she went to Urbana police and told them what she saw in the driveway of the Urbana townhome on July 21, 2018.
Schott and fellow prosecutor Alex Boyd argued that made Jackson accountable for the actions of Campbell and therefore guilty of murder.
Sarm argued that the jury had plenty of reasons to question the testimony of Malaia Turner, who he said had motive to “fabricate.”
“She was angry and wanted Cory Jackson locked up. If she couldn’t capture the real killer, she wanted someone to go down for this,” he argued, saying that she gave police four different statements.
Schott had countered that Malaia Turner’s interviews with police were not four completely different statements, but instead accounts that built on the previous ones.
Sarm even criticized her testimony, saying she “came across as apathetic, angry, no sense of grief — just a vindictive attitude.”
And he argued that Alisha Turner had the same reason to lie: “to try to convict Cory Jackson of a crime he did not commit.”
Two other women at the party who initially told police they had seen Jackson hand a gun to Campbell testified during the trial that they lied under pressure from Allen Williams, a relative of Mr. Taylor, and that they didn’t believe he was involved.
Schott maintained that their statements “just four days after were much more likely to be true than what they said this week after people have had a chance to talk to them.”
Sarm, on the other hand, argued that they were victims of Williams, who persuaded them to lie “so they could at least get somebody convicted since Keith Campbell is now on the run.”
Jackson was released from the county jail Friday afternoon. He had been in custody since Aug. 20, 2018.