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Jury deadlocked in case of 2003 murder-for-hire

By Holly Hollman
DAILY Staff Writer

hhollman@decaturdaily.com 340-2445

ATHENS — Who is more believable?

An admitted killer and former strip club bouncer or a state inmate and former police informant?

A person who worked in cell analysis before becoming a firearms identification expert with the state's forensic lab? Or a retired state forensic lab director hired as a consultant by the defense?

A 12-person jury hasn't decided.

After deliberating Thursday for four hours and 45 minutes, the jury told Limestone Circuit Court Judge Bob Baker it was deadlocked in the capital murder trial of Mark Angus, 38, of Ardmore.

The jury must decide whether Angus is guilty of capital murder for hire, capital murder committed during a burglary and first-degree burglary in the Nov. 12, 2003, shooting death of Michael Bryant, 21, of Elkmont.

The prosecution contends Angus hired former bouncer James Duncan and Duncan's friend Joshua Southwick to shoot Bryant because Bryant had stolen two of Angus' guns.

Three times the jury sought more details on the case. Baker reread the meaning of reasonable doubt, but then denied giving jurors testimony of four witnesses. He said that would appear to put emphasis on part of the evidence.

The jury also asked for a large photograph of the Hays Mill Road mobile home where Bryant's killing occurred. Because attorneys did not submit that picture as evidence, Baker denied that request.

Both the defense and prosecution asked the jury in closing statements to question the credibility of witnesses and whether cartridges from Angus' home match those at the crime scene.

Tammie Ratcliff with Huntsville's forensic lab said the CBC 9 mm cartridges from Angus' home and crime scene have the same marks from a stamping machine the manufacturer uses to brand the cartridges.

Lawdon Yates, a retired state lab director turned consultant, said those markings have no significance because so many cartridges are in circulation. CBC made 460 million cartridges this year, he said.

District Attorney Kristi Valls said the Brazilian company shipped only 117,000 of those to the U.S. and changes the stamping tool every three to eight hours.

Defense attorneys Marc Sandlin and Bob Massey said Duncan, who is awaiting trial for capital murder and admitted shooting Bryant twice in the back of the head, has a reason to lie. Duncan hopes Valls will not seek the death penalty.

The attorneys also said the man who let Duncan and Southwick live with him, Keith George of Ardmore, was connected to the events before and after the murder and should have been a suspect. The duo called George from Arkansas after fleeing the area after the shooting, but no phone records indicate they called Angus.

Valls said George wouldn't have turned the duo in to authorities if he was involved. George told the Limestone County Sheriff's Department he had heard Angus, Southwick and Duncan plan the murder.

Valls called defense witness Chet Croxton, a state inmate and former Athens police informant, a liar. Croxton testified that Duncan and Southwick told him prior to the murder that they were armed and told him they were going to Elkmont to collect money for Keith, but he did not know if that was Keith George.

During his testimony, Croxton made statements that conflicted with testimony he gave in the case during a 2004 bond hearing.

"As long as he's talking, he's lying," Valls said. "He's the biggest liar who took the stand."

She said the case boils down to whom the jury believes.

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