Moments after acquitting a college football star of robbing a drug dealer at gunpoint, one juror leaned in to speak to the young defendant.
He told Trent Mackey to do positive things with his life from here on out.
He and his 11 fellow jurors deliberated three hours Friday afternoon, after a grueling four-day trial, before finding Mackey not guilty on all counts.
Mackey, a former linebacker for the Tulane Green Wave, walked from the courthouse Friday a free man, exactly one year after he was with a drug dealer when she was robbed of a quarter-pound of pot in her Broadway Street apartment.
Had he been convicted of armed robbery and conspiracy, he would have faced a minimum sentence of 15 years in prison.
“You can expect great things from this young man,” his attorney, Rick Kelly, told reporters after the verdict was read.
Mackey will try to play again for Tulane and revive his aspirations of eventually playing profession football, his attorney said.
On the witness stand during trial and outside the courthouse after the verdict, Mackey’s father said his son was being prosecuted by a corrupt system hell-bent on bringing down the football star.
“It’s because of who he is, it’s because of what he accomplished,” Trent Mackey Sr. said. “We shouldn’t have been here. We should never have been here.”
District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro dismissed the accusation.
“The idea that we were persecuting Trent Mackey because he is some high-profile person is ridiculous. He was a Tulane football player,” Cannizzaro’s spokesman Chris Bowman said Friday. “We prosecuted Trent Mackey because there was a overwhelming evidence that he participated in this armed robbery. Anyone who believes we were doing this because he was a football player, be it the defendant or his attorneys, quite simply have delusions of grandeur.”
Prosecutors alleged that Mackey was the “mastermind” behind a plot to rob Megan Wales, a former member of the Tulane dance team, on the afternoon of July 12, 2012.
Assistant District Attorney Lindsay Truhe told the jury that the defense team was trying to distract them with conspiracy theories that Mackey was targeted for being a college athlete.
“I don’t care that he’s on the football team. I only care what he did on July 12, 2012, and the days leading up to it,” Truhe said.
She told the jury that’s all they should care about too.
Mackey’s defense attorneys mocked police and prosecutors, sarcastically referring to investigators as the “intrepid detectives” and their case as “extremely sloppy police work” and an “arbitrary exercise of state power.”
“They had an agenda: this was press, this was TV, they were on Trent Mackey from the start,” Kelly told the jury in his closing argument.
Mackey had admittedly arranged to buy a quarter-pound high-end pot from Wales, according to testimony.
But prosecutors said it was a fake drug deal.
Mackey had conspired to have two other men barge in mid-exchange, point a gun to her face, order her to the floor then take off with the weed.
Prosecutors had tried to connect him to the crime with a series of text messages he and his two co-defendants exchanged in the days leading up to the robbery.
In one text message, a few days before the robbery, he mistakenly sent a message to the victim: “we can stake out her crib before she walks in.”
Prosecutors alleged he meant the sinister message for his co-conspirator, but he insisted that it was part of a fraternity prank.
Prosecutors also forced one of his co-defendants to testify over the protestations of his attorney.
Robert Murray, 20, the accused gunman, had given a taped statement to police saying Mackey orchestrated the plot. His attorney, Martin Regan, attempted to keep him off the witness stand, invoking his constitutional protection against self-incrimination.
After an angry exchange Thursday, Orleans Parish Criminal District Court Judge Keva Landrum-Johnson held Regan in contempt of court and sentenced him to 24 hours in Orleans Parish Prison.
She later rescinded the contempt charge and jail time.
Murray, who has been convicted of the armed robbery, took the stand and recanted his confession.
He said police tricked him into implicating Mackey.
His story fit well into Mackey’s defense. Kelly in his closing statements repeated the state was trying to “tar Mr. Mackey’s name.”
“They’ve almost got him to Angola, but they’ve got to go through you,” he implored the jury.
The jury sided with Mackey and found him not guilty on all counts.
Kelly said after the verdict that, even though Mackey has since graduated from Tulane, he intends to ask NCAA to extend his eligibility for play for Tulane for one more year.