It took a jury about an hour and a half Wednesday to find a woman guilty of aggravated assault and murder in the death of James Edward Stewart Jr.
He was killed on June 6, 2014.
Marquana Adele Jasper wept openly after the verdict against her was read in court. Sentencing has been set for Sept. 5.
The trial started Tuesday in the Liberty County Justice Center before Liberty County Superior Court Judge Glen A. Cheney.
Jasper and Stewart had known each other since high school, according to testimony. The defense contended that Stewart was off his medication and not acting right around the time Jasper shot him. In the days preceding the incident Stewart had harassed another woman by trespassing on her property and banging on the windows and doors. A week before the shooting, Stewart was arrested for criminal trespass after he had been warned to stay away from Jasper’s property, but he returned.
Jasper’s attorneys John Ely and Alisa Schlundt argued that Jasper did not intend to kill Stewart. They said Jasper was protecting her children. The defense said Stewart had slapped one of Jasper’s three children. The slap was allegedly hard enough to have the child complain of pain in his teeth.
After her child was hit, Jasper followed Stewart in a Chevrolet Tahoe as he trotted down Elim Church Road near its intersection with Highway 196, trying to get away from her. Jasper got out of the vehicle and assaulted Stewart. When she got back in she pulled a Ruger .117 pellet air rifle and fired it at Stewart.
Stewart was found by police in a ditch on Highway 196 and airlifted to Memorial Hospital where he later died. According to the medical examiner, the cause of death was the pellet wound in his brain.
Schlundt said Jasper’s actions were justified, doing what a good mother would do to protect her children.
Liberty County Assistant District Attorney Hugh Ridgway said Jasper could have alerted authorities and done numerous other things instead of taking matters into her own hands. He called the shooting an act of revenge.
Ridgway said Jasper never took her son to be treated after the alleged slap and that Liberty County Sheriff Office Detective Charles Woodall, now retired, met with the children and none displayed signs of injury or trauma.
"There is no evidence of injury to the child," Ridgway said during closing arguments. He said Jasper had picked up Stewart and brought him to her house two days before the shooting, just after Jasper had Stewart arrested for trespass.
Ridgway said Jasper shot Stewart while her children were in the back seat of the Tahoe, arguing she had no concern for the welfare of her children.
"She was tired of it and she was going to make him pay," Ridgway told jurors.
The prosecutor also presented evidence showing that Jasper had confessed to the crime, a written confession that Jasper made upon learning that Stewart died and that her charges were being upgraded to include murder.
The confession was read in court.
"I am a murder. I am a murder. I am a murder," Jasper told then LCSO Detective Steven Teal. "I prayed all night that boy would live so I could go home to my babies."
The defense contended the investigation was flawed. They cited missing reports from officers on the scene and that none of the interviews were recorded. They also pointed out time errors on the confession form.
Schlundt also noted that Teal testified that the Jasper case was his first as lead detective and that he had assistance from veteran detectives Woodall and Julie Buttress.
During Teal’s testimony he said the term lead investigator was a "loose term."
"And he proved it," Schlundt said, telling jurors the case had too many errors in procedures.
"How many oversights are there and what are they?" she questioned.
Ridgway steered the jury to the testimony of Latonya and Ernest Maxwell, who had no ties to the parties in the case, but went out of their way when they suspected something was wrong.
Latonya Maxwell was on her way home when she saw Jasper driving alongside of Stewart. She testified that seemed odd so she turned around and asked Jasper if everything was OK.
Maxwell testified that Jasper said, "We all right, everything is going to be f-ing all right."
Maxwell called her husband. She went home, and they got in his truck to go back and see what was going on. The couple saw Jasper beating Stewart and then saw the barrel of the rifle poke out of the passenger window.
"Oh my God, she has a gun," Maxwell testified. The couple said they were in shock but tried to follow Jasper. When they saw the Tahoe it was speeding on Highway 196, and made a left onto Elim Church Road.