After only six hours of deliberations, a jury has reached a verdict in a double homicide case in Juneau.
On Tuesday afternoon, Oct. 8, the jury in Juneau’s Superior Court found the defendant Laron Carlton Graham not guilty on two counts of murder in the first degree.
At the news, Laron Graham and his defense attorney Natasha Norris hugged as family members of one of the victims sobbed in the back of the courtroom.
Graham was charged with two counts of first-degree murder in connection with the deaths of Robert Meireis, 36, and Elizabeth Tonsmeire, 34. They were found shot to death in November 2015 after partying and using drugs at Tonsmeire’s condo.
Graham wasn’t charged with the crime until February 2018.
During closing arguments on Monday, Oct. 7, the prosecution spent a lot of time using cell phone tower data to show that Graham left the area immediately after the murders were supposedly committed and after Meireis’ phone went inactive.
But the lynchpin of the prosecution’s case was a former inmate who served time at the Lemon Creek Correctional Center with Graham. That witness testified that Graham, who was serving time for an unrelated crime, passed a note to him confessing to the murders.
That note was destroyed before it could be turned over to law enforcement. So, the prosecution relied on the witness’ reconstruction of its contents.
The witness testified that the note explained why Graham committed the murders. That witness said Graham, who is black, was mad at Meireis, a white supremacist, for selling him bad drugs and calling him racial slur. Tonsmeire, the prosecution argued, was shot because she was a witness to the crime.
But Norris questioned the accuracy of the witness’s testimony. She said he has no credibility, since he tried to use the note as leverage to get a lighter sentence for himself.
Norris also said there’s no physical evidence linking Graham to the crime. And, the gun used to murder Meireis and Tonsmeire was never found.
Norris told jurors that others were also suspected to have committed the murders. She said the Juneau Police Department investigators did not follow up on those leads.
Norris cried as she spoke to reporters after the verdict was announced on Tuesday afternoon.
She said she believed the jury had unanswered questions and saw gaps in the prosecution’s timeline of events.
Norris said she knows the trial was difficult for the Tonsmeire family and she knows that it still doesn’t bring closure for them.
“I’m so sorry for their loss and I’m sorry for their grieving. I really am,” Norris said. “But my client should have never been charged. He should’ve never been charged.”
Tonsmeire’s family left the courthouse without speaking to reporters.
Although he was acquitted on both murder charges, Graham will return to prison to finish serving time in an unrelated case.