It was a marathon of closing arguments following a marathon double murder trial.
Prosecutors said a web of circumstantial evidence — phone calls, DNA, witness accounts, muddy clothing and recovered weapons — prove that Marcus Short had a hand in two homicides over four days in August 2015. The defense pointed the finger at two co-defendants, blamed shoddy police work for reports filed years late and said some evidence was weak at best, at worst misrepresented.
In closing statements Tuesday, the attorneys reviewed more than 1,000 pieces of evidence and the testimony of 75 people from the 30-day trial.
Now, a jury will decide whether Short, 29, was involved in the slayings of DePrecia Neelon, 23, and Garion Johnson, 19.
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Preston Pope, 28, was sentenced in November to two life sentences for his role in the fatal shootings. Shadow Harlan, 18, faces a first-degree murder charge and a firearm charge in connection with Neelon’s death.
Prosecutors said Short was present at both killings and for a previous effort that month to shoot Johnson.
On the day Neelon was killed, Aug. 6, 2015, Pope, Short and Harlan were targeting Johnson, said prosecutor Sean Lavery. They started a fire at the back door of Neelon’s home, 2021 Pinkney St. Neelon pulled her 4-year-old daughter away from the door and went to douse the flames. She was shot seven times by at least two .45 caliber guns.
Near Neelon’s home, police found a merchandise tag with a fingerprint matching Short’s, analysts testified. A black glove and Garmin watch were found near the home, and Short’s DNA could not be excluded from those items.
“Is it just coincidence that Marcus Short’s DNA shows up at the scene?” Lavery said.
However, Public Defender Tom Riley noted the high statistical probability of the DNA matching other people. The odds that the DNA on the glove belonged to anyone other than Short was 1 in 5, meaning at least a few people in the jury could be contributors, Riley argued. For the watch, the odds were 1 in 7.
Usually the odds can be in the octillions — 27 zeros — said Riley, which make the DNA evidence more exact of a match.
“That is insignificant,” Riley said. “And once again, shows the desperation (of) the state.”
Riley took issue with the only witness who identified Short near the scene, saying the witness is a “serial liar” who wanted to get a benefit on felonies he faces in exchange for information.
“He has a history of telling police that he witnessed homicides to trade for favorable treatment,” Riley said. “I’m honestly surprised that the state is putting so many of their eggs in (his) basket. His testimony is total BS.”
Lavery told the jury that they don’t have to believe that witness, but other evidence corroborates the witness’ testimony.
“No single witness is going to come forward and say, ‘I saw Marcus Short shoot Deprecia Neelon,’ or ‘I saw Marcus Short shoot Garrion Johnson,’ ” Lavery said. “That evidence just isn’t afforded. The case relies largely on circumstantial evidence.”
Two days after Neelon was killed, on Aug. 8, 2015, Johnson was shot seven times with a .357 revolver outside his home at 5431 Fontenelle Blvd.
Security cameras and witnesses placed a white Chevrolet Monte Carlo with in-transit stickers at the scene. Four hours later, based on tips, detectives found a Monte Carlo with in-transit stickers at Short’s house. Inside the house, they found a .45 Glock, a .357 Smith & Wesson and other evidence, including two black hoodies and muddy shoes.
Prosecutors said the Glock was used in the Neelon homicide and the Smith & Wesson during the Johnson shooting.
Witnesses described men wearing black hoodies, one with a red “N” on the front. Forensic investigators found a shoe print in the mud outside Johnson’s home, where the block was torn up because of sewer repairs.
Lavery said Riley can argue that there are many black clothing items and several white Monte Carlos in the city.
“But how many white Monte Carlos have in-transits? How many white Monte Carlos are found at the same houses as murder weapons and clothing that match the descriptions of the shooters?”
Prosecutor Michael Jensen implored the jurors to step back and look at the totality of the case.
“Don’t let the musical chairs in this case continue,” Jensen said.
But Riley continued with his assertion that Short had nothing to do with the slayings. “He’s not a murderer,” Riley said.
Another problem that surfaced: Two now-former Omaha police homicide detectives took years to file reports, which were sometimes incomplete and lost, on the slayings.
It frustrated Riley and prosecutors.
“By no means do we condone the police work of these two officers. It’s lazy, it’s poor and it’s sloppy,” Lavery said. “But what impact does that ... have on the broader investigation?”
Riley said it does matter, as information that identified another shooter wasn’t documented until much later and not disclosed to attorneys in a timely, proper manner.
“Are we following the leads where they take us?” Riley asked. “Or have we formed a theory and going to go full speed ahead?”