LEXINGTON COUNTY, SC (WIS) - Norman Starnes said it was self-defense, but jurors didn't buy it and Wednesday they found him guilty on two counts of murder.
Starnes argued his own case, telling a Lexington County jury a few days ago he knew the facts better than any lawyer. The strategy failed.
It took the jury three hours to reject Starnes' claim that he shot and killed two men in self-defense at his home in Pelion. The verdict marks the second time Starnes has been found guilty of murdering Bill Welborn and Jarrod Champlin in 1996.
Starnes met the victims in December 1995, convincing them to use their skydiving talents to spotlight the Pelion Christmas parade. Prosecutor Trey Gowdy told the jury, "We go from Santa suits to cement caskets in three weeks."
Gowdy says Starnes turned on his friends after Welborn roughed up Starnes in the restroom of a bar.
Gowdy says Starnes then buried the bodies on his uncle's farm, burned the victims' wallets, threw the murder weapon in the North Edisto River and lied to everyone about what happened. "Think about what he did to the bodies. Think about what he did to the crime scene. Think about how he acted in January, February, March, April - malice."
Gowdy also ridiculed a video Starnes offered to support his claim that Welborn pulled a gun on him before Starnes fired his own weapon. Gowdy called it a "cartoon."
In his closing argument, Starnes admitted his attempt to cover up the killings was wrong. "What happened after the shootings is terrible. I should have picked up the phone and called police and I can't change that. But my fear escalated from day to day. And maybe some of you all can understand. Maybe you all shot somebody before. Maybe one of you all on the jury know what it's like to shoot and kill somebody."
But Starnes' statements, and some of his witnesses, harmed his case instead of helping it.
Starnes had this second chance at exoneration after his first conviction was overturned due to improper jury instructions. That first trial led to a death sentence. The state is again seeking the death penalty, and starting Thursday afternoon, Starnes will try to win a permanent reprieve from death row.
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Reported by Jack Kuenzie