DALLAS, TEXAS -- A Collin County jury acquitted a Mesquite man of murder Wednesday in the shooting death of a North Dallas man last April.
The defendant, Ryan Naylor Palmer, 44, testified Monday that he shot Jimmy Lee Earley, 39, in self-defense because he feared for his life after the victim charged toward him in a menacing manner.
Mr. Palmer was assisting Mr. Earley's girlfriend, Janice Waites, who was attempting to break up with the victim when the incident occurred in Far North Dallas, according to testimony from both Mr. Palmer and Ms. Waites.
Ms. Waites testified that Mr. Earley was verbally and physically abusive toward her. The jurors deliberated for two days and more than six hours. The trial included six days of testimony.
Mr. Palmer did not show any emotion after the decision was read but tipped his head toward jurors after they were released.
'I feel relieved'
"I feel relieved," Mr. Palmer said Wednesday afternoon. "I was confident it would be not guilty. That night I had to do what I had to do to spare [Ms. Waites'] life, her unborn baby's and mine.
"I am very much looking forward to moving on with my life," he added. "There is nothing to take pride in here. It was something I needed to do to preserve our lives."
Mr. Earley's family expressed disbelief at the jury's decision.
"I don't think justice was done," Mr. Earley's mother, Barbara Earley, said. "He shot an unarmed man. He shot my son and killed him for no reason. This could have been avoided. I can't believe they did this. I really can't believe they did this."
Added Mr. Earley's aunt, Charlotte Earley-Moody: "He's a cold-blooded killer. God will give him his justice."
Terry Dotson, who served as jury foreman, said the decision hinged on the matter of self-defense.
Mr. Palmer, he believed, acted within legal bounds in defending Ms. Waites.
"Although we felt Ryan could have gotten out of this situation without deadly force, we don't think Janice could have gotten out of the situation," Mr. Dotson said. "And we do believe that Jimmy Earley would have inflicted serious bodily injury to her."
Police said Mr. Earley was fatally shot April 1, 2001, at a Far North Dallas apartment complex in the 19200 block of Preston Road in Collin County.
He sustained gunshot wounds to the midsection and left leg. He died from those injuries about five hours later at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas.
During his statement to jurors Monday, Mr. Palmer said he arrived at the apartment where the shooting took place after giving Ms. Waites a ride so she could pick up her car, which Mr. Earley had taken without permission.
When Mr. Earley spotted Mr. Palmer and Ms. Waites together outside the apartment, he went into a rage, Mr. Palmer said.
Before exiting the car he was driving, Mr. Earley punched a hole into the front windshield, smashed a radio and yanked one of the car doors off its hinges, Mr. Palmer testified.
Mr. Earley then charged toward the defendant and Ms. Waites, Mr. Palmer said. Fearing the worst, Mr. Palmer said, he displayed one of his guns to Mr. Earley and told him, "we are not going to do this Jimmy," but Mr. Earley continued to walk toward the defendant and Ms. Waites.
Mr. Palmer said he shot Mr. Earley once, then a second time after the victim continued to walk in his direction and backed him up against a wall.
Mr. Palmer testified that he did not see Mr. Earley carrying a weapon when he opened fire.
"He had no justification for shooting and killing Jimmy Earley," Assistant District Attorney Kelly Ludy said during closing arguments Tuesday.
Ms. Ludy also accused Mr. Palmer of ambushing Mr. Earley. Mr. Palmer had two guns and two magazine clips with him at the time of the shooting, police said. She told jurors that Mr. Palmer planned the confrontation so he could shoot Mr. Earley and take his girlfriend, Ms. Waites, whom he had dated in the past.
Mr. Palmer denied those allegations.
During the trial, defense attorney Gregory Brewer presented evidence that Mr. Earley was under indictment in Collin and Denton counties for pending felony cases, which included charges of burglary of a habitation with the intent to commit a sexual assault.
Ms. Waites also testified that Mr. Earley was wearing two court-ordered ankle monitors at the time of the shooting.
According to records, Mr. Earley was arrested in 1984 on charges of burglary of a habitation and placed on probation.
In 1989, his probation was revoked and he was sentenced to eight years in prison. He served about eight months of that sentence before being paroled.
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