FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) Jeremy Washington is now behind bars, waiting for sentencing. Early Thursday morning, a jury convicted him of four charges related to a shooting at a Fort Wayne bar and the crash that killed a local high school student. That same jury found him not guilty of the most serious charges, among them murder and three counts of attempted murder.
The verdict came after more than a week of testimony and and 13 hours of jury deliberation.
Rob Wood was the jury foreman. He said from the very beginning, jurors knew it was going to be an emotional case because the victim was a 17-year-old girl.
“That was hard for everyone. The defense. The prosecution. The judge. Everyone involved. Yeah, that was really hard,” Wood said with tears in his eyes. “We got to see and hear some horrific details. So when you have a family or other loved ones, you kind of emotionally attach yourself to that. It was tough. The hard part of the whole deal was detaching yourself from that.”
Haley Nellum was killed instantly when Washington’s car slammed into hers at the intersection of Stellhorn and Hobson Roads in March of 2014. Evidence showed he was speeding and drunk at the time.
Family members from both sides were in the courtroom every day of the trial.
“Everyone felt sorry for the Nellums,” said Wood. “And to some extent, some folks felt sorry for the Washingtons, too.”
From the beginning, Wood and the other jurors vowed to keep an open mind.
“The whole idea is being open-minded because you’re being presented evidence – and the credibility of that evidence. You have to be open-minded, obviously, and that was per the instructions of the judge,” Wood explained. “Jeremy was innocent until proven guilty. And that was the stance we took the whole way. There was no judgment of Jeremy. To this date there still isn’t, in all the jurors minds. We looked at the evidence. We didn’t look at Jeremy.”
Witnesses, police, and medical personnel testified during the eight-day long trial. Jeremy Washington did not take the stand in his own defense. Wood said that didn’t necessarily play a role in their decision, but they did take note of the fact that immediately after the crash, Washington agreed to be questioned by investigators without an attorney present.
“That opened up a can of worms for a number of us – that he felt comfortable to tell his side of the story without having to have someone there to protect his back,” said Wood.
Wood said that as foreman, he developed a process as deliberations started. Once jurors determined what they believed happened that night, they agreed to discuss each charge individually. After a decision was made on each, it was final.
“We decided that we were not going to go back and debate what we had already decided the story was. And then we back-ended with the charges and plugged them in after we came up with the story,” Wood said. “And that’s when the real debate began. When we went through each one of those separate charges and used the story that we had developed through the evidence that had been provided to us.”
One crucial piece of evidence turned out to be surveillance video from the Corner Pocket Pub, where the shooting took place just minutes before the crash.
“We got a really good look at what really happened. Some folks might say that the yays and the nays and the guilty and not guilty that came out of that probably didn’t follow what they expected. The fact is, they didn’t get to see the evidence that we were privy to. It was significant,” Wood continued. “It actually tells the truth. When you have the stories and you back into the stories with evidence that’s videoed, it’s significantly helpful. And in this particular case it was significantly meaningful.”
Wood said the video showed that other people involved in the altercation at the bar helped set things in motion.
“Who was the real person who struck the match that lit the fuse that blew up the bomb that provided all the collateral damage after the bomb exploded? There is and will be debate about that from now until whenever.”
When asked what the atmosphere was like in the deliberation room, Wood said, “When we got to the deliberations and we got all the evidence that we were going to be given, that’s when things got – I wouldn’t say contentious – but there was solid debate. People stood their ground when they felt as individuals that they needed to, which is what they should be doing. And then collectively we went through that and systematically broke it apart and made sure that their decision was indeed based on fact.”
Closing arguments began early Wednesday morning and jurors got the case just after lunch. They didn’t reach a verdict until after 2 a.m. Thursday morning.
“We went through various degrees of being tired and getting second and third winds and, you know, are we stuck enough that we could be hung?” said Wood, when asked if fatigue factored into the decision. “Should we shut it down and come back with a fresh mind?”
The process was tiring and sometimes tedious, but Wood said every juror took the job seriously.
“I felt good that we gave it our best effort – but all of us felt this to some extent – whether we did the right thing. When we were done, folks were quiet. There wasn’t any cheering. We knew that we were affecting two families’ lives significantly. Even though they’d already been affected significantly, we were adding to that.”
Wood said in many respects, he and other jury members thought that like Nellum, Washington was also a victim of the night’s circumstances.
“I wouldn’t say he was victimized, but he was a victim. He was definitely an individual that was in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Wood said.
Wood said one of the most important lessons he learned throughout the trial was this: “You don’t want to get in trouble and have the lay person have to make a decision that impacts your life significantly as it did for Jeremy and as it did for the Nellums. That’s the moral of the story.”