After almost six hours of jury deliberations that stretched over two days, Ron Blair, facing murder and other charges, was acquitted on all counts Tuesday afternoon.
Blair, 33, dropped his head on the defense table about 1:20 p.m. and wept as the jury of five men and seven women returned a not guilty verdict on all five charges. Security was heavy in the Columbus Government Center as the verdict was read.
Blair was cleared on one count each of murder, malice murder, aggravated assault, possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony and theft by conversion in the March 25, 2012, shooting death of Keon Coleman at 12th Street and Broadway.
Although charges in the shooting have been decided, Blair would not be released today from the Muscogee County Jail where he has been held for the last 15 months. Prosecutor Jennifer Cooley said Blair still faces two lessor charges of burglary and possession of a gun in an unrelated case.
The verdict shocked Cooley and other members of the prosecution team from the district attorney's office. "Naturally I am shocked," she said minutes after the verdict. " I am appalled. I am actually horrified that someone who has murdered another individual was found not guilty of these charges. We put in a lot of hard work , the prosecution team."
The outcome was good news for Blair's defense team of Stacey Jackson and Michael Eddings. "We feel really good about the verdict," said Eddings, "A mother did lose a child so any positive feelings we have right now of course is offset by the fact that there is a family that did lose a love one."
The jury received the case Monday after Cooley and defense attorney Jackson presented closing arguments in the weeklong trial.
In her closing arguments, Cooley described Blair as a murderer, thief, bully and coward in the shooting of 19-year-old Keon Coleman.
She said Blair approached Keon Coleman with a gun in one hand and a red plastic cup of Jägermeister in another after Blair’s friend Joseph James “JJ” Coleman and the victim argued over an offensive rap song JJ Coleman was singing about women. “Ron Blair threw a drink in the face of Keon Coleman and shot him,” Cooley told the jury.
JJ Coleman and Blair said the victim was reaching for a weapon at his waist before the fatal shot was fired. After shooting Keon Coleman, Blair went to his car on Broadway and returned to the area to pick up JJ Coleman, who was terrified to enter the vehicle, said Cooley.
Later that morning, Uptown Columbus Inc. president Richard Bishop was washing blood off the sidewalk when he saw Blair back on Broadway. Knowing that Blair was sought by police, Bishop called detectives. Blair ran out of his shoes before he was taken into custody.
The .32-caliber Derringer used by Blair was found April 9, 2012, on Broadway when the owner of Cuckoo’s Nest was cutting grass. The gun came from his ex-girlfriend Asia Blue, who said he borrowed it on the pretense to get a spring fixed, but he never returned it, prompting the theft charge.
Police already had found a .40-caliber pistol a few feet from the scene about six hours after the shooting. Terrell Bellamy, a friend of Keon Coleman, denied in testimony that he hid the victim’s gun after the shooting.
In his closing statement to the jury, Jackson said the case against Blair is self-defense because he was in imminent danger. “In that one second, Mr. Blair had to make a decision,” Jackson told the jury.
The defendant had to make up his mind whether he would be carried by six people to a grave, or tried by 12 jurors in a court of law, Jackson said.
Blair was not the aggressor in the shooting and tried to calm them as the dispute escalated. “He had a right to defend himself,” Jackson said.
The defense attorney also questioned why police didn't test the pistol found in the bushes near the shooting scene.
He described police as “dropping the ball” to determine if any DNA from Bellamy or the victim was on the weapon. “Why that wasn't done - is it because they are afraid of the results?” Jackson asked.
Blair testified that he was called a snitch by the victim before the shooting. Jackson said Blair has been labeled a snitch since 2004, when he testified in a murder case that sent two men to prison. The case was to return to court on appeal. Blair said he had been in fear since the case and was given unsupervised probation on a gun possession charge in 2009.
“The state understood what he was going through,” Jackson said.
Jackson and attorney Michael Eddings rested their defense in the case Monday morning after Blair testified that he fired a fatal shot at Coleman in downtown Columbus and fled.
“I was in fear for my safety,” Blair told the jury in Muscogee County Superior Court. “All I could think about was my kids.”
Blair said he and JJ Coleman were downtown on Broadway that night when JJ Coleman walked ahead of him singing lyrics to a rap song, “That’s your hoe, that’s my hoe.”
As the two approached the Columbus Bank and Trust, Blair said, JJ Coleman stepped on a stool and kept singing the song. JJ Coleman and Keon Coleman, who are not related, started arguing about the song. “They had words back and forth,” Blair said.
Blair was closer to JJ Coleman when he said Keon Coleman said, “You’re the snitch on my OG.” Blair said it was a reference to a 2004 murder trial in which he testified for the state and two men were sent to prison. “I said, ‘Woo. Chill out,’” Blair said.
At that point, Blair said Keon Coleman’s shirt was hanging and his gun was lifted up. The argument escalated when the N-word was hurled at Blair, who tried to get the armed man to go to his club. “Let’s go and drink,” said Blair, who was leasing a club building downtown.
With less than a second to react, Blair said he fired when he saw Keon Coleman reach into his waistband. Blair said the gun was in his right hand and a cup was in his left as he fired a shot at Keon Coleman and fled, thinking he would have time to get away without getting shot himself in the back. He ran across the street toward the Ledger-Enquirer building and up Broadway near the old Bradley Theatre where his car was parked.
“I said, ‘What the f--- just happened?’” Blair testified.
Blair, the father of six children including twins, said he then drove south on Broadway and picked up his friend JJ Coleman.