James Carter Jr. didn't look like a murder defendant while sitting at the defense table in District Court.
At 5 foot 5 inches tall and weighing about 100 pounds, Carter, dressed in a suit and dress shirt, looked more like a scrawny boy dressed up for church instead of the accused in a high-profile murder case.
But authorities said Carter, 18, killed Kyle Staheli and torched his body in 2006. Carter is alleged to have acted with Swuave Lopez, a 17-year-old who was later shot and killed by Las Vegas police.
Even District Judge Sally Loehrer remarked that a jury would have a hard time convicting Carter because "this kid looks like he's about 12."
In the end, she was right.
After deliberating for about six hours, a jury found Carter not guilty of murder and conspiracy to commit murder in connection with Staheli's slaying. The jury also acquitted Carter of kidnapping and conspiracy to commit kidnapping charges.
But Carter isn't a free man. The jury found Carter guilty of robbery with a deadly weapon, conspiracy to commit robbery, possession of a stolen vehicle and possession of stolen property charges.
Carter, who did not visibly react when the verdict was returned, is scheduled to be sentenced on Aug. 27.
Carter's attorney, Conrad Claus, said his client never should have been charged with murder.
"This was overcharged in the first place because Metro was covering up a bad shoot. The jury recognized that," he said.
Several jurors said they didn't believe Carter was directly involved in Staheli's killing. Although Carter was with Lopez when Lopez shot and killed Staheli, jurors said they didn't think Carter was aware it was going to happen.
"He didn't even know," juror Don Magill said of Carter.
Prosecutors asked jurors to hold Carter responsible for the slaying under the felony murder rule. This rule states that even though Carter did not pull the trigger, he was still responsible for the death because it occurred during the commission of another felony, primarily the robbery.
But throughout the trial Carter was described as borderline mentally retarded, someone who did not have the capacity to help plan and carry out the killing.
This is the second time Carter has stood trial on the murder charge. In March 2007, District Judge Lee Gates declared a mistrial when a jury couldn't reach a verdict after 31/2 days of deliberating.
Authorities said Lopez and Carter planned to rob Staheli, 18, of his 1996 Ford Mustang and kill him. On May 10, 2006, Lopez and Carter drove with Staheli to the base of Sunrise Mountain. Once there, Lopez shot Staheli three times, killing him. Carter then drove Lopez home in Staheli's Mustang.
The pair returned to the crime scene the next day and burned Staheli's body, authorities said.
Several days after Staheli was killed, Las Vegas police arrested Carter and Lopez. Lopez, who was in the back seat of a police car, got free and fled. Two Las Vegas police detectives shot Lopez in the back while he was fleeing, killing him.
A Clark County coroner's jury later found the two detectives acted justifiably when they killed Lopez in the shooting.
Staheli's family, who attended the trial, declined to comment after the jury delivered the verdict.
Nicole Lise, another juror, said she felt sorry for Staheli's family but she and other jurors had "reasonable doubt" about Carter's guilt.
"We definitely felt for Kyle's family because it was awful. Our verdict doesn't negate the fact that something awful happened and a terrible crime occurred," she said. "But our job was to figure out whether James Carter Jr. was involved."
Contact reporter David Kihara at email@example.com or 702-380-1039.