CHARLESTON -- A Sikeston man was found guilty of first degree murder and armed criminal action during a jury trial Friday.
After deliberating for about 50 minutes, the seven men and five women of the jury found Randy Lamon McKeller, 24, guilty for the shooting death of Trevor Neal on May 24, 2003, at the corner of Dixie and Osage on Sikeston's west end.
McKeller, who was soft spoken and reserved during the two-day trial, reacted with a sudden, violent outburst after hearing the decision.
"I didn't DO it!" he shouted, punctuating his outburst with the crash of broken glass by sweeping a glass water pitcher off the table in front of him. The pitcher shattered against the bench, nearly hitting the circuit court clerk and the court stenographer.
McKeller continued to struggle and deny responsibility as he was handcuffed and removed by the court's bailiffs.
Judge Fred Copeland, circuit judge for the 34th Circuit Court, ordered McKeller to be held without bond until final sentencing which was set for 1 p.m. March 6.
Copeland served as judge for the trial which was held at the Mississippi County Courthouse due to a request for a change of judge and venue by the defense.
This was McKeller's second trial on the charges. The first, held in August, was declared a mistrial due to a hung jury.
On Feb. 15, 2005, McKeller's co-defendant, Justin "Jumbo" Robinson of Sikeston, was convicted of second degree murder and armed criminal action after a two-day jury trial and is now serving a 30-year sentence in the Missouri Department of Corrections for his part in the murder.
"Trevor Neal's death resulted from disrespect on the streets," Scott County Prosecuting Attorney Paul Boyd said during the trial.
The conflict between McKeller and Neal, who were at one time on friendly terms, started when McKeller was allegedly robbed of cash and or property valued at around $200 by an individual from Memphis, Tenn., identified only as Antoine who was a friend of Neal and Kevin "K.D." Weekly of Sikeston.
About five to seven days before the shooting, Neal and McKeller had an altercation Boyd said was related to the robbery.
During his testimony Friday, McKeller related that just before the altercation, Neal asked to drive McKeller's truck but McKeller refused because he was upset with Neal for letting Antoine rob him.
This led to heated verbal exchange that soon escalated further: "I swung, I missed, he swung, hit me," McKeller said during his testimony.
Witnesses recalled the fight as one-on-one, but McKeller told Robinson, his life-long friend and neighbor, that someone else jumped in while bystanders attempted to break the fight up.
"I told Justin Robinson that I had him in a headlock and someone hit me from behind," McKeller said. "It was one-on-one but someone hit me from behind."
"You told him you got jumped," Boyd said.
"I told him what happened but that is the impression he took," McKeller said.
McKeller testified that on the night of the shooting he was with friends on Sikeston's west end at about 10 or 11 p.m. when a maroon van drove down the street.
As is usual during these gatherings, a crowd including Robinson and Elgin Hunt, approached the vehicle to see who was in it.
McKeller recalled Hunt having a friendly chat with the girls in the van while Robinson asked the vehicle's occupants if they had any marijuana to share.
"They said they didn't have some," McKeller said. "We were like, 'We smell it.'"
Robinson then reached in and took the keys out of the van's ignition and said "I'm not going let you all go nowhere until you give me some weed because I know you got some," according to McKeller.
After spotting Neal in the back of the van, Robinson reached into the vehicle, opened up the sliding door and brandished a handgun.
"Justin was like, 'What's up? What's up?'" McKeller said.
"Elgin was like, 'Don't shoot my cousin,'" McKeller continued, after which Hunt asked McKeller to "come get your boy."
The vehicle's other occupants scattered while Neal attempted to keep Robinson from pulling him out of the van by using his feet before crawling out of the vehicle head first through the open driver's door.
"Justin runs around the van and chased him," McKeller said. "We didn't think he was going to catch him cause Trevor had a good head start."
At this point, the stories told by Robinson and McKeller differ.
In Robinson's version, which was corroborated by witnesses, Robinson tossed the gun away and gave chase to catch Neal and beat him up.
As Robinson refused to take the stand during this trial, his testimony from the previous trial was read by Bobby Sullivan.
"I figured if he was runnin', he ain't go no arms," according to Robinson's testimony as read by Sullivan.
Robinson caught him and was about to begin beating him when McKeller ran up with the gun dropped by Robinson.
At this point he told McKeller, "Don't do it - too many witnesses," according to Boyd. "Randy says 'F-it' and shoots him."
Boyd said the two attackers' positions in relation to the victim show who pulled the trigger. "Randy's at the head, Justin's at the feet," he said. "The shot came from the top of the body where Randy was standing. ... A bullet can not tell a lie - it goes in a straight direction."
McKeller, on the other hand, claimed Robinson pocketed the gun and as he chased Neal down, then pulled it out when McKeller got near the fight.
"It is our position that Justin Robinson shot and killed Trevor Neal," said Derrick R. Williams, lead defense counsel, during his closing argument. "He told five different stories."
Boyd said Robinson initially wouldn't offer any information but once he found out Neal died he decided to tell the truth to Bobby Sullivan, who at that time was a Scott County Sheriff's Deputy.
Robinson also said he decided to testify against his friend because he wanted to make things right with Neal's mother.
"I just want her to know what really happened," Robinson said in testimony read by Sullivan. "I just want her to know what happened to her son."
Boyd noted in his closing arguments that Robinson was arrested the next day while McKeller, who fled to St. Louis, wasn't taken into custody until 10 months after the shooting.
"Flight indicates guilt," Boyd said. "Resisting arrest indicates guilt."
Williams said appeals will be filed by the defense.
"The jury listened to the evidence and was firmly convinced that the defendant committed the crime," Boyd said of the decision following the trial.