By BRADEN LAMMERS
Four days after it began, and in less than three hours of deliberation, a jury found James L. Washington, 36, guilty of murdering 55-year-old Robert Eader.
“We did have good proof in the case, and I don’t think it took this jury very long to review the evidence,” said Clark County Chief Deputy Prosecutor Jeremy Mull.
He said the defense sought to have Washington found not guilty of murder on the grounds of self-defense, so the case came down to an issue of intent, which the jury believed Washington had and convicted him of murder.
“Certainly our primary response is disappointment,” said Washington’s attorney Stephen Beardsley when asked about the quick verdict. “We’re just surprised and disappointed.”
Beardsley said he though the trial was presented well and handled well by the prosecution and Clark County Circuit Court No. 1 Judge Dan Moore, but said he was sure his client will appeal the decision.
“I don’t think he just wants to accept that ruling,” Beardsley said.
A sentencing hearing has been scheduled for Nov. 18. Washington faces a maximum penalty of 85 years in prison and $20,000 in fines.
EARLIER IN THE DAY
Attorneys presented their closing arguments Friday morning in Clark County Circuit Court No. 1.
Eader was found stabbed to death in his Spring Street apartment in the early-morning hours of Dec. 3, 2012, in what is believed to be a fight over $40 owed for cocaine.
Before closing arguments were heard, Washington took the stand in his defense. He said when he went back to Eader’s apartment around 3 or 4 a.m. — he had been at the residence earlier using drugs with the victim — to collect $40 owed to him, they got into a conflict.
According to Washington’s testimony, Eader tried to push him out of the apartment, but Washington refused to leave until he received his $40. The two men began fighting one another, and at a certain point during the struggle, Washington said he saw Eader reach for his pocket. It was at that point, Washington pulled out a pocket knife and began stabbing Eader.
Mull asked about a different version of events that he told to Jeffersonville police detectives when Washington was arrested days after the incident.
According to the testimony, detectives asked if Washington had grabbed for the money Eader was holding, $188, which Washington admitted to doing at the time of questioning. During his testimony, however, Washington said he felt that it was being suggested he agree with detectives so authorities would be easier on him.
Mull also pointed to a comment that Washington made during questioning that he thought he could “snatch that old man’s money and be on the road home.”
Mull asked in his closing arguments that the jury find Washington guilty of murder and armed robbery, a class B felony. The defense was asking, if the jury finds Washington guilty of a crime, that he be found guilty of manslaughter.
There has to be a provocation to find a defendant guilty of a lesser charge of manslaughter, Mull explained. He said there was no provocation that would illicit the need for Washington to believe he was in danger to use a knife against Eader. Mull said after the stabbing Washington went and washed his hands and forearm, noticing a cut on his own arm, then walked out of the apartment.
Mull said that the 315-pound Washington should not have been threatened by the 180-pound Eader, that Washington had the opportunity to leave several times before and during the fight and that Washington did not need to act in self-defense against Eader, who was calling out for his neighbor to help him.
“He was not provoked,” Mull said. “A man taking [Washington] by the arm and trying to get him out of the house after he asked him multiple times to leave is not provocation. If you believe he was there committing a crime, he cannot use self-defense,” he added.
Beardsley, countered that the only reason the encounter turned deadly was because Washington was scared and thought Eader was going for a weapon when he reached into his pocket.
“This became escalated, and it’s the only reason why we are here, when Mr. Eader reached into his pocket,” Beardsley said. “That is when James became entitled to self-defense under the law.”
Beardsley also said it is the state’s burden to prove that Washington went to Eader’s apartment knowingly or intentionally to kill Eader. Murder in Indiana, however, does not require premeditation.
Beardsley also pointed to the character witnesses that had testified for Washington, and despite his running afoul of the law, it has never been because he had committed a violent crime. He also discussed why Washington and his then-girlfriend and mother of his child, Dana R. Eisenback, 26, fled to Missouri and returned so quickly. Eisenback lived in Poplar Bluff, Mo., with Washington’s child, and she was reportedly in Jeffersonville to visit family. But when the couple arrived in Missouri they were told by Eisenback’s family in Jeffersonville she was a person of interest in Eader’s murder.
Beardsley said the couple was in Missouri for about 40 minutes before they decided to head back to Jeffersonville to turn themselves in.
Before Washington left the stand Friday, Beardsley asked Washington if he was sorry for what had happened.
“Very,” Washington said.
The charges against Eisenback were amended to dealing in cocaine or narcotic drug and aiding in the commission of armed robbery resulting in bodily injury, both class B felonies, according to Clark County court records. She is scheduled to go on trial Nov. 5.