Breckenridge Texan

Jury finds Blair not guilty in murder of Leah Martin

Jury finds Blair not guilty in murder of Leah Martin
October 05
22:51 2017

The five men and seven women who made up the jury in the Elton Carroll “E.C.” Blair murder trial deliberated his fate for almost nine hours Thursday, Oct. 5, before issuing a verdict of “Not guilty” of the murder of Leah Martin. When polled by the judge to see if the verdict was their vote, each juror answered “Yes, sir.”

District Judge Stephen Bristow discharged the defendant and told him he was free to go. Blair left the courtroom, under heavy security provided by law enforcement officials from Breckenridge, and Stephens and Young counties.

At 6:18 p.m., the jury had sent a note to Bristow, telling him that they were deadlocked at a vote of 10 not guilty and two guilty. The judge, prosecutors and defense team all agreed to tell the jurors to continue deliberations and attempt to reach a unanimous verdict.

About two and a half hours later, everyone was summoned back into the courtroom – attorneys, family members of the victim and the defendant, members of the media and at least 12 law enforcement officers. “I said earlier that it was an emotional trial,” Bristow said to the people seated in the gallery before the jury arrived in the courtroom. “Please accept the jury’s verdict.”

Once the jury was in their seats, Bristow had Blair stand and the unanimous verdict of not guilty was read. As each juror confirmed their vote, several members of Leah Martin’s family left the courtroom. Most of the other family members who stayed were in tears.

“It’s been very emotional for everyone involved,” said defense attorney David Wimberley. “I even have sympathy for this young lady, but I did see that they were trying the wrong person in this case.

“It took the jury a long time before, by using common sense as I asked them to in my closing arguments, they were able to see through a lot of the evidence and come to the right conclusion and let an innocent man have his freedom back,” he said. “I couldn’t have done this without my daughter, Chelci O’Dell, who just graduated from law school and passed the bar exam.”

The trial took almost three weeks and involved multiple witnesses for both the prosecution and the defense. Also charged with the 2015 murder of the 22-year-old single mother, were Ross Hellams and Billy Ray Minkley Jr.

Hellams is in the Young County jail pending his trial. Minkley pleaded guilty at the beginning of Blair’s trial in exchange for a life sentence and an offer of a plea deal in another case in which he has confessed to killing three people in Fort Worth.

“Obviously we’re disappointed in the verdict,” said District Attorney Dee Peavy. “(The jury was) very attentive, and they worked hard. Circumstantial evidence cases are tough. We feel badly for the Martin family.”

Peavy and Special Prosecutor David Alex said that they intend to go forward with prosecuting Hellams, but a trial date has not been set at this time.

 

Story by Carla McKeown/Breckenridge Texan

Cutline: Elton Carroll “E.C.” Blair leaves the Stephens County Courthouse Thursday night, Oct. 5, after a jury declared him not guilty in the 2015 murder of Leah Martin. Law enforcement officers from Breckenridge and Stephens and Young counties provided security for Blair as he exited the building. (Photo by Tony Pilkington/Breckenridge Texan)

 

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