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Decision in murder trial set for Thursday

Wednesday, August 2, 2006

CHARLESTON -- With only three witnesses called by the defense, the murder trial for a Charleston man accused of beating his fiancee and her son to death ended Tuesday.

Andre Clark, 43, is now awaiting a decision from Judge Fred W. Copeland, circuit judge for New Madrid County's 34th judicial circuit, on two counts of second degree murder and one count of first degree assault.

Copeland is scheduled to deliver his decision at 9 a.m. Thursday.

Clark did not take the stand in his own defense.

Mississippi County Prosecuting Attorney Darren Cann called 15 witnesses, according to Circuit Court Clerk Karen Turley.

Closing arguments by the prosecution and defense were made at about 2:15 p.m. Tuesday.

Originally scheduled for five days as a jury trial, court officials expected the trial to run for three days once it was changed to a bench trial, which is presented before a judge.

On Feb. 23, Clark waived his right for a jury trial in exchange for the state dropping three counts of armed criminal action and amending the charges of first degree murder to second degree murder, eliminating the possibility of the death penalty.

Following a four-month investigation, Clark was charged on Oct. 20, 2004, with the beating deaths of Lazan Tanette Balentine, 32, and her 4-year-old son, Kyri Savignon White-Balentine. The two were found dead on June 17, 2004, in their home at 802 South Grand St. in Charleston after apparently being beaten to death on June 16 with a blunt object.

A second son, Knighten Sabir Balentine, who was age 3 at the time, was also attacked and beaten at the home. While seriously injured, Knighten was treated at a St. Louis hospital and survived.

The first degree assault charge Clark was also tried on was for this beating.