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Hung jury in re-trial of North Las Vegas murder case

A murder case that the Nevada Supreme Court remanded for retrial over breached Miranda rights ended in a hung jury and mistrial Tuesday.

After several days of testimony and more than 12 hours of jury deliberation over two days, the case against Billy Ray James, 46, ended with the jury deadlocked 11-1

District Judge Valerie Adair said she’ll confer with lawyers about a third trial.

In 2012 James was convicted of first-degree murder and related charges stemming from the Jan. 22, 2010, killing of his godfather, Willie Henderson, 60, in Henderson’s North Las Vegas home. Henderson was found slumped in a recliner with a gunshot wound to the head.

But in 2014 the Nevada Supreme Court ordered a new trial, ruling that James’ Miranda rights had been breached because detectives continued questioning him after he’d invoked his right to remain silent and had requested counsel.

James has consistently argued self-defense.

During questioning Friday at the Regional Justice Center, he said Henderson pointed a gun at him during an argument. James said he tried to turn the gun away, but it went off when they fell into the recliner. In a brief re-enactment, James pushed his attorney, Jonathan MacArthur, forcefully enough to elicit gasps from courtroom observers.

During closing arguments Monday, prosecutor Tierra Jones argued the death was premeditated murder.

Henderson’s ex-wife and other witnesses testified Henderson didn’t own the .25 caliber pistol that delivered the fatal shot.

Jones also noted that crime scene photos show no signs of a struggle, but security camera video shows James kicking in the home’s back door and later leaving without seeking help for his godfather, whom he’d called “his everything.”

Henderson, who was legally blind and walked with a cane, was shot in the back of the head, Jones noted.

“This was a deliberate act,” she said, “because Willie didn’t see this coming.”

MacArthur countered that North Las Vegas Police detective Benjamin Owens seemed so sure of James’ guilt that he never bothered to test Henderson’s hands for gunshot residue.

“When I asked him why he didn’t, he told you why not,” MacArthur told the jury. “He said, ‘We already knew a gun had gone off in the house, and so we shouldn’t have been surprised to find gunshot residue in random places.’ Ladies and gentlemen, that question and that answer is too clever by half.”

The Supreme Court said it remanded the case because James, in a motion to suppress damning statements from three interrogations over 36 hours, argued that his statements were involuntary and that detectives minimized the significance of Miranda warnings. The court noted that James was barefoot when taken into custody, had taken anti-psychotic medication, wasn’t coherent and told police what he thought they wanted to hear so they would leave him alone.

Owens acknowledged using an investigative technique to “try to get (suspects) to waive their rights” during initial interrogation and that throughout the first interrogation, which started at 3:20 a.m., James “repeatedly asked for water because he was thirsty and shoes because his feet were cold. Owens told James he would take his request for water ‘into consideration.”

Follow Matthew Crowley on Twitter @copyjockey

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