GuiltyJurors find Dillard guilty on all three charges
By MARY ANN GREIER (email@example.com)
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LISBON - Family members on both sides of the aisle wept quietly after hearing the jury's verdict in the Eric Dillard murder case: guilty, guilty, guilty.
"I don't know if I can even find the words," victim Jamie Farley's mother, Terri L. Farley Davis, said afterwards.
The jury of eight women and four men found the 31-year-old Dillard guilty on all charges in the indictment: murder, a gun specification and having weapons under disability in the April 22, 2008, shooting death of Farley, a 35-year-old East Liverpool resident.
They deliberated a little under five hours over a two-day period, flipping a light in the Columbiana County Common Pleas courtroom at 11:25 a.m. Friday to indicate a decision had been reached.
Judge C. Ashley Pike read the verdict at 11:45 a.m. and ordered Dillard taken to the county jail immediately after revoking his $250,000 cash bond, which had been posted at 10 percent with electronic monitoring, allowing him to stay home while the case was pending.
County Prosecutor Robert Herron requested the bond be revoked in light of the guilty verdict for such a serious offense, with defense attorney Doug King asking that the bond remain since he didn't violate the terms.
Pike scheduled sentencing for 10 a.m. June 29. Dillard could face a possible minimum prison term of 18 years to life or a maximum term of 23 years to life. The gun specification for using a gun to facilitate the crime requires a mandatory three-year term which must be served consecutive to any other term. When combined with the 15 years to life for the murder charge, that accounts for the 18 years.
The weapons disability charge, which stems from him being prohibited from possessing, owning or using a firearm due to a previous drug conviction, carries a possible sentence of one to five years.
Herron said Dillard's previous felony conviction for preparation of drugs for sale is an "appropriate sentencing consideration by the court. What the court's decision will be, we don't know."
Before the verdict was announced, Pike addressed the gallery and asked that family members and friends of both the victim and defendant refrain from displaying physical or verbal reaction, warning that a violator could risk contempt and land in jail. He thanked them for the good cooperation over the course of the trial which began May 5.
The packed and tense courtroom included three uniformed courthouse security officers, three uniformed deputies from the Sheriff's Office, a Sheriff's Office detective, Wellsville Police Chief Joseph Scarabino and numerous representatives of the prosecutor's office. Sheriff Ray Stone and more deputies remained in the hallway.
No problems occurred, with jurors dismissed after being polled individually to confirm the guilty verdicts. The victim's family was ushered out of the courtroom and upstairs to the prosecutor's office, followed by the exit of Dillard's supporters, who were crying as he was placed in handcuffs.
"I love you Eric," his mother said softly between tears.
Relief could be seen on the faces of Farley's family members, which included his three sisters, a brother, a brother-in-law and one of his daughters, besides his mother.
"We're going to go celebrate Jamie's life. We can remember him and celebrate him," his mother said. "This whole thing is a tragedy."
Herron and county Chief Assistant Prosecutor John Gamble both noted there were a lot of emotions on both sides and Dillard's attorneys raised a vigorous defense.
Dillard claimed Farley had been threatening him over a clothing business deal they had together and carried a gun. When Farley came to his residence at 906 Commerce St., Wellsville after a heated phone conversation, Dillard pointed a gun at him and told him to leave. After he left, Farley came back and that's when the shooting occurred. He died from two gunshot wounds to the chest and abdomen.
Dillard claimed self-defense from the get-go and said he was defending himself and his family, which included his girlfriend Trisha Miller and their then 2-year-old son Eric, known as Little E, claiming they were getting into their Hummer when Farley came from behind the vehicle. He testified that Farley came toward him with one hand behind his back and kept coming as he pointed the .40-caliber pistol at him and told him to get down.
No evidence was ever found to indicate Farley had a gun and his girlfriend, Shirley Jo Hackney, who was at the scene, said they had no weapons. She was driving the car. Other passengers included her mother and her two young children.
When contacted by phone, defense attorney James Hartford said he and King spent some time consoling Dillard's family after the verdict and met with Dillard at the county jail outside Lisbon.
"His family's devastated. My heart goes out to them," he said.
Dillard has a right to appeal, which Hartford said they'll help him do, but they suggested he hire appellate counsel to handle the case.
"Obviously we were kind of stunned by the verdict," he said, saying the story of this case was Eric Dillard. "He consoled us when we were at the county jail."
Hartford said his client stood by his actions of April 22, 2008, saying he did what he felt he had to do. He was ready to take the consequences then and he's ready to take them now. When asked about the jury's decision, he said "one guy had a gun and one guy didn't." They couldn't prove the existence of another gun, but he said they're still working the case until they're told not to.
Both Hartford and Herron talked about the tough job the jury had in deciding the case.
"It's a tough case for a jury when you have self-defense raised. Their verdict is entirely consistent with the evidence," Herron said.
"We were hopeful that the jury would see the evidence the way they apparently did and apply it to the law," Gamble said.
He offered thanks to the efforts made on behalf of the case by Scarabino and his staff, including several young officers who performed well under the microscope. Both he and Herron said the chief's efforts contributed to their preparation and the preparation of his officers to testify.
Herron said a case like this one, with a person held accountable for their actions, sends a message.
"We don't allow frontier justice. Once we allow that to happen, then our system breaks down," he said.