SOUTHAVEN, MS (abc24.com) - Self defense or manslaughter? A DeSoto County man's future hangs on the decision, or rather lack of one.
Justin Thomas has been tried three times for the 2008 murder of a 16-year-old. A jury can't agree on what happened and this fall the case could go to trial for the fourth time.
Thomas was convicted of manslaughter in 2009. He spent about two years in jail, and was released at the beginning of this year after his conviction was overturned.
Since then he's been retried twice, once in the spring and the second time this week. Both times a jury couldn't agree on a verdict. Now it's up to lawyers to decide how to proceed.
"It's been a long road. Here we are right now, three trials later, possibly a fourth trial later," says lawyer John Keith Perry.
In Thomas' first trial, Perry says the jury wasn't allowed to consider the Castle Doctrine, a law that covers whether Thomas acted in self defense. It's why his conviction was overturned.
"It's been our contention all along that this is purely a self defense case," Perry says.
In 2008 Thomas shot and killed 16-year-old Dexter Harris outside a church dance in Southaven. According to Perry, the murder happened because Thomas felt threatened.
"He was trying to stop a group from harming a person that could have led to pretty bad injuries." So Thomas fired two shots in the air and then got into his car. "After that the group attacking the other individual came and started doing things to the car Justin had fled to with a gun in his hand," Perry tells abc24.com.
"Some people say the car was surrounded. Some say there was a few at the back and sides of the car banging and trying to get him (Thomas) to come out," says Lt. Mark Little, who investigated the murder.
"Witness testimony said he (Thomas) rolled down his window shot behind his car." Harris was hit twice. "The fatal round went through his chest cavity from side to side," Little tells abc24.com.
The big question for three trials has been if Thomas had the right to protect himself.
"If you ask my opinion, it's negligent to shoot into a crowd of people," Little says.
"He protected himself," says Perry. "Now there seems to be a number of jurors that are agreed as well."
With two juries split, the bigger question remains, what happens next? Thomas is out of jail on a $35,000 bond. A new trial date has been set for this November, whether that happens is up to the district attorney's office.
Lawyers are re-evaluating all the evidence and will make a decision in the next few weeks. A manslaughter conviction carries up to 20 years. If it's ruled self defense, Thomas could walk free.