Tyrone Head, the Fort Bliss soldier accused of prompting the gunfire that killed two other soldiers outside a Central El Paso nightclub last year, was acquitted of murder charges Thursday afternoon, prompting tears and shouts of joy from Head and his family.
However, relatives of the two soldiers killed, Army privates Preston Brown and Damien Bailey, were visibly upset after hearing the jury's verdict, weeping while speaking with the El Paso District Attorney's Office victim services counselors.
Head, 22, was arrested in April after a state grand jury indicted him on two counts of murder in the shooting deaths, which happened Jan. 15, 2012, after a confrontation between a group of Head's friends and friends of Craig Allen Graham, who faces trial April 5 in the shootings.
During Head's trial, witnesses testified that Head fired a handgun into the air outside of the club, and Graham returned fire while standing in the club's parking lot. Bullets from Graham's .45-caliber handgun were found in Brown and Bailey's bodies.
Jurors deliberated for about an hour before reaching their verdict. After 384th District Judge Patrick Garcia read the verdict aloud, Head weep loudly and fell to his knees. His parents and other relatives, who sat behind Head and his attorneys throughout the three-day trial, also sobbed loudly.
"Thank you, Jesus! You set me free!" Head shouted as two El Paso County detention officers escorted him to a nearby holding cell.
Head's family and the victims' families declined to comment after the verdict.
Head's attorney, Patrick Lara, said after the verdict that he expected Head to be released from jail either late Thursday or early today. He had been jailed since his arrest while awaiting trial.
"I'm surprised but pleased by the verdict," Lara said. "We're very happy."
Lara said the Army has not compensated Head while he was jailed awaiting trial, but now that Head has been acquitted of all charges against him, Lara expects that Head will have to report to his superiors at Fort Bliss.
During closing arguments Thursday morning, Assistant District Attorney Denise Butterworth told jurors that because he fired his gun, Head could have been charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, but he was charged with murder because his actions served as a threat toward Graham and prompted the shooting deaths of Bailey and Brown.
"If he (Head) set something in motion as he committed the felony e under the law he is responsible for how that plays out," Butterworth told jurors.
Lara, at times raising his voice, argued to jurors that the only reason prosecutors sought a murder conviction against Head was to strengthen their case against Graham.
"Don't put a man on trial just because you're trying to make a better case for someone else," Lara said.
He also argued that after the initial confrontation inside the club, Graham had already made up his mind to assault Head and his friends. Lara pointed to a text message Graham allegedly sent to a friend about 15 minutes before the shooting, stating that he had planned to beat up Head and his friends.
"Right now you have his life in your hands," Lara told jurors. "I hope you will judge him based on the facts, not on the theory."