Woodrow Karey found not guilty in shooting death of Pastor Ronald Harris

Woodrow Karey and Pastor Ronald Harris (Source: KPLC)
Woodrow Karey and Pastor Ronald Harris (Source: KPLC)
Published: Apr. 11, 2018 at 2:12 PM CDT|Updated: Apr. 11, 2018 at 11:17 PM CDT
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LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC) - Woodrow Karey has been found not guilty in the killing of Pastor Ronald Harris September 27, 2013.  He was charged with manslaughter.

Karey admitted he killed Harris, saying the pastor had raped his wife and she couldn't get away from him.

The jurors went out at 2:33 p.m. and reached a verdict around 5:30 p.m.

To many it's a stunning verdict considering Karey admits he killed the local pastor in front of his congregation in 2013.

Karey took the stand in his own defense and it paid off.

After three hours the jury found him not guilty even though 40 or 50 people saw him kill Harris with a shotgun. Karey did not appear on camera, but his defense lawyers are jubilant:

"We're just thrilled for Woodrow Karey, he's a very good man, he got justice and we're pleased for him.  HE got put in a position to do what he had to do to defend his household, to defend his wife, to defend himself and justice was served. Ronald Harris was a threat to him. He was in imminent danger of receiving bodily harm based on the threats that Ronald Harris made to his wife," said Todd Clemons, defense attorney.

"We're just pleased for Woodrow. He's got such a big heart, we love him to death, we love his family, and we're just overjoyed at the verdict.  It's the right verdict.  This is justice," said Adam Johnson, defense attorney.

But it's not justice to Harris's family or to Calcasieu First assistant D.A. Cynthia Killingsworth who says, over her entire career she's never been so disappointed in a verdict.

"I'm extremely disappointed for the family, for the victim's family, for all the congregation, for all the children that were in that church, all the people that were in that church, they're scarred for life, our community, I think it's legalized murder.  That's what it is," said Killingsworth..

Killingsworth and family attorney Ron Richard find it interesting jurors sent a question asking the court to define "imminent danger" which would be a reason to justify killing.

"They apparently did not know what the word imminent meant.How can this be justifiable.  It's not.  And apparently the jury didn't understand that.  And they let him go," said Killingsworth.

"It's befuddling is I suppose the word I would use. I think everyone understands what an imminent danger is.  If you're at an intersection and someone's running a red light coming at you, that's an imminent danger.  IF you're walking across and intersection and someone is three blocks away, that's an eventual danger. The pastor was no imminent threat to anyone in that family and that's the word's of Woodrow Karey," said Richard.

The not guilty verdict was especially heartbreaking for Harris's mother, wife and daughter Talisha who was there, in  church, when the shots were fired.

"It has affected the church members, our family, a lot of us are seeing psychiatrists, we're on different types of meds, we have nightmares, our kids have nightmares, and things like that so it really has changed our life," said Talisha Jacko.

Still Clemons says Karey has no regrets.

"He's a big man, he has a big heart.  He told me while they were deliberating whatever the outcome is, I can live with it.  I have no regrets about what I did because  I did what I had to do to protect my wife," said Clemons.

And so after nearly five years, Woodrow Karey is a free man.

Earlier int he day, the state and defense made their closing arguments.

Killingsworth discussed how most people of faith associate church with family events such as weddings and baptisms, but that because of Karey, the Harris family will now think of church as a place of death, revenge and murder.

She told jurors defense attorneys were asking them to ignore the law.  She asked if they have ever heard of an adult being raped 14 years and described Janet Karey as a liar who got caught violating her marriage vows.

Killingsworth told jurors that Karey was the aggressor when he walked into the church and killed Harris and that he cannot claim self-defense.

However,Clemons countered, talking about Harris being a master manipulator and that he thought "Woody" was a pushover.

Harris "picked the wrong one," said Clemons, again referring to part of a text "You and your family will suffer," which Karey considered a threat.

Clemons also told jurors Harris had said to Janet Karey, "If you don't hear me through my text you will hear me through my actions," another threat, he said. Clemons argued Harris controlled Janet Karey.

Clemons also talked about Karey's numerous good works and told jurors, "If you do good, good will come to you." He criticized the state's case saying, "What they presented is all they could come up with."

Clemons also told jurors if Karey is convicted of manslaughter he's looking at a minimum of 20 years in prison.

In her final rebuttal, Killingsworth took that opportunity to show jurors again the sanctuary of the Tabernacle of Praise Church and the body of Harris, shot in the back and in the rear end. She urged jurors to find Karey guilty.

Karey took the stand Tuesday in his own defense. He was cross-examined by Killingsworth on Wednesday morning.

For more details on today's testimony and closing arguments check out Theresa's Twitter feed below.

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