A Douglas County jury on Thursday convicted a former Northwest High School football player of killing a marijuana dealer.
The jury reached its verdict after two and a half hours of deliberations, finding 19-year-old Mitchell Wynne guilty of first-degree murder and use of a weapon to commit a felony in the slaying of Darnell Haynes. Authorities have said Wynne shot Haynes in his car after they met up for a drug deal.
“The defendant robbed the victim of marijuana and robbed the victim of his life,” said prosecutor Jim Masteller. “He is guilty of murder.”
Family members of both Haynes and Wynne sat throughout the entire trial. Haynes’ mother, Teresa Haynes, said the most painful part of the trial for her was seeing crime scene photos of her son.
“I’m glad my son got justice today, but there are no winners in this story,” Teresa Haynes said. “That young man (Wynne) had a lot of things going for him, and he threw away his life.”
During closing arguments, prosecutor Jim Masteller said Wynne and an unknown co-conspirator, who acted as a lookout, planned to rob Haynes, 29, of marijuana in the parking lot of Mid-K Beauty Supply, near 60th Street and Ames Avenue, on July 14, 2013, about 3:10 p.m.
Haynes died in his vehicle after being shot in the head. First responders found his body lying across the front passenger seat with his head partially hanging out of the passenger door.
Marijuana was found on the back of Haynes’ shirt, inside the vehicle and strewn throughout the parking lot around Haynes’ Jeep. Prosecutor Amy Jacobsen said Haynes likely tried to fight off Wynne. Under Haynes’ fingernails, Masteller said, investigators found DNA believed to belong to Haynes and Wynne.
The crime lab also lifted Wynne’s partial palm print from Haynes’ Jeep. Phone records showed that Haynes and Wynne texted and called each other throughout the weekend. The day of the murder, Haynes texted Wynne saying he could sell him marijuana. Haynes told Wynne to call him to meet up. Minutes before Haynes was killed, Masteller said, he talked to Wynne on the phone.
Masteller also referenced a surveillance video from a nearby business shown to the jury during the trial. In the video, two people are seen fleeing the scene of the murder. He said the two people running away were Wynne and his lookout, although the video is not clear enough to identify the faces of the suspects. No co-defendant has been charged in this case.
Public defender Tom Riley said his defendant is not guilty. No witnesses could identify Wynne as the suspect. The murder weapon and the phone that officials say belonged to Wynne were not recovered, Riley said. Masteller told jurors that police didn’t recover the phone or gun because Wynne ditched both items after the murder.
“Basically what we have here is a situation in which prosecutors have no evidence to support who was at the scene of the shooting,” Riley said. “This case has way, way, way too many holes in it.”
The murder trial was one of the first cases to go to trial since the Douglas County Attorney’s Office disclosed in January that the Omaha police crime lab misidentified a fingerprint in a 2012 burglary case.
Douglas County District Judge Leigh Ann Retelsdorf ruled in January that prosecutors took too long to notify Riley of the mistake and granted Riley a delay in the trial.
In lieu of that discovery, Riley said, the crime lab can’t be trusted to appropriately identify fingerprints until it becomes accredited by the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors.
He asked the jury to disregard any evidence processed by the crime lab, including the palm print linked to Wynne. If the jury found Wynne guilty, Riley said, the jurors would be just as wrong as the crime lab technicians who incorrectly identified the print in 2012.
“You should be outraged by the lack of qualifications of the Omaha police crime lab,” Riley told the jury. “They are not credible.”
Prosecutor Jacobsen disagreed, saying many qualified and highly trained people work in the Omaha crime lab. She also said the three people who misidentified the print in 2012 have received additional training.
A different crime lab technician identified the Wynne print, and the print was also verified by the Lincoln Police Department.
“We went into a great amount of detail regarding the error, what was done to rectify the error and where the crime lab stands now,” Masteller said in an interview after the verdict. “I believe that due to the rarity of such mistakes, and the actions that were taken to remedy that situation, I think the jurors must have felt comfortable with the evidence that was presented.”
Wynne will be sentenced in June to a mandatory life term for first-degree murder.
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