Jackson, who faced charges of felony murder, murder, aggravated assault, battery and possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime, was found not guilty on all counts in Bartow County Juvenile Court just after 9 a.m. The 16-year-old had been charged in connection with the March 13, 2010, shooting death of Norman Moore Jr., 19, at a Middlebrook Drive party.
His co-defendants -- Dedric Deshon Jackson and Demetrius Matavlo Castle Jr. -- were found guilty on all counts, except murder, in Bartow County Superior Court Nov. 18. Leondris Jackson was tried in juvenile court due to his age -- 14 -- at the time of the shooting.
Judge Velma Tilley addressed the families present Monday morning, noting the increased security measures, and vowing to hold anyone who made an "outburst" in contempt.
Prior to reading the verdict, Tilley told Moore's father she was sorry for his loss and appreciated the cooperation he had shown in the past.
"I want to say something to you first. Of course, you and I have known each other for a number of years, and I wanted to say when I first heard about this last year, I didn't have the adjectives to describe my shock, my dismay. ... I was angry and I was .. sad," Tilley told Moore. "... The repercussions of this reverberated in our court for weeks -- either the kids that were there or that could have been there or who attended Norman's funeral -- and I heard about that for weeks afterward. ... He was missed, and I can't even begin to appreciate your loss.
"I appreciated all the times that you and I worked together to try and have a different path for Norman. We wanted something different, and I am so sorry for your loss."
Tilley then addressed Jackson and his family, referencing the often vague and contradictory testimony heard throughout the trial.
"I want to say initially, that in the juvenile court, we are used to people not telling the truth in juvenile court. We are used to adults not telling the truth, it's not usually magnified to the extent that it has been ... in this case. Usually we are able to ferret out the truth through those who do tell the truth or by other physical evidence in the matter. This case has been a challenge -- it is a challenge -- but I haven't thrown in the towel... I spent hours reviewing the evidence," she said. "... I think it is fair to say that out of the 16 some-odd lay witnesses who testified not one person told the same story as any other witness. Now that isn't necessarily unusual in eyewitness testimony, especially in such a traumatic event and one that occurred in such a brief period of time. However, not one witness told the same story in trial that they had said in a previous statement. That is strikingly unusual."
Tilley said she deemed one witness credible -- Bryan Owens, who she credited with saving the life of his cousin by forcing him back into his vehicle when the altercation between Dedric Jackson and Norman Moore Jr. began.
But Owens' testimony alone was not enough to do away with reasonable doubt.
"There are some things that I do find beyond a reasonable doubt. One of those is that, several weeks before March 13, 2010, Leondris Jackson had a gun in his possession at a convenience store -- the Shell station across from Middlebrook -- along with his cousins Dedric and C.J., his co-defendants in this case. That testimony came from a completely unimpeachable witness, a recently enrolled deputy sheriff who lived in the subdivision, and whether that gun belonged to Leondris' family or was one of the infamous guns that many, many folks who testified knew that Dedric and C.J. had in their possession, I don't know," she said. "But, Leondris, you were on a path to destruction that day, when as a 14-year-old you had a gun in your possession ...
"I also find beyond a reasonable doubt that on March 13, 2010, Leondris Jackson, along with his two cousins, Dedric and C.J., were verbally abusive to an adult woman ... in front of her two minor children. And whether that shows an inherent lack of character on your part or whether you were influenced by your older cousins remains to be seen. But I do find that you acted in that manner prior to the shooting that same day."
"Here's the thing, Leondris, a trier of fact would listen to the 16 contradictory witnesses and eliminate all the testimony but one witness and decide to believe that one and that verdict would be upheld in a court of appeals," Tilley continued. "A trier of fact would find beyond a reasonable doubt that that one credible witness in this case is Bryan Owens and off you go, convicted of murder. I, however, am not that trier of fact. ... You came into this courtroom cloaked in the presumption of innocence. Despite the testimony of what I find to be a credible witness, I find that there is other testimony that brings a reasonable doubt in my mind as to your guilt."
Leondris Jackson could have received five years in a state juvenile facility if found guilty. He had served the previous 18 months in a juvenile detention center outside Bartow County.