An Akron man was acquitted Tuesday of aggravated murder and aggravated robbery charges, despite evidence of his DNA on the victim’s pants pockets.
In a rare not-guilty ruling, a Summit County jury set free Brent Lett, 23. He was accused of taking part in the July 2011 shooting death of Dante Thornton.
Defense attorneys Brian Pierce and Nick Klymenko won the verdicts following a weeklong trial and three hours of jury deliberations.
“I think it was a difficult decision for the jury, but at the same time, I think they followed the evidence and applied the law,” Pierce said. “It was the right result, and we respect the jury for the courage it took to render their decision, especially in a case that carried a lot of emotion.
“Our heart goes out to Mr. Thornton’s family, but I don’t believe Mr. Lett had anything to do with the death of Mr. Thornton.”
Assistant county prosecutors Brian LoPrinzi and Justin Richard could not be reached for comment.
A spokeswoman did not immediately comment.
In order to convince jurors of his innocence, Pierce said, Lett took the stand in his own defense and tried to explain how his DNA came to be found on the inside of Thornton’s pants pockets. He also had to explain a series of text messages exchanged with his co-defendant the night of the slaying.
Those texts suggest the men planned to rob Thornton of marijuana.
Thornton, 31, was shot five times in the head inside his Moon Street apartment. His pants pockets were found pulled out, as if someone had rifled through them.
Lett explained the presence of his DNA on the pockets, testifying that he had visited Thornton earlier in the night and went through the pockets of a pair shorts he found on a couch in an effort to steal marijuana, Pierce said.
Lett also told jurors that the text messages early that night were merely about plans to take marijuana from Thornton. He denied killing the man.
The nine text messages were sent between 7 and 8 p.m. Thornton’s girlfriend testified that she talked to the victim about 11 p.m. Lett’s mother testified that her son was home about the same time, Pierce said.
Thornton’s body was found almost a day later.
Common Pleas Judge Mary Margaret Rowlands presided over Lett’s trial. She is also handling the case of his co-defendant, Terrell Nurse, 21, of Copley Township.
Nurse will be tried Jan. 28 on the same charges of aggravated robbery and aggravated murder.
Phil Trexler can be reached at 330-996-3717 or firstname.lastname@example.org.