Jury finds inmate Van Winkle guilty of first-degree murderJurors rejected an inmate's self-defense claim, finding him guilty Monday of first-degree murder in the vicious beating death of another inmate in Maricopa County's Fourth Avenue Jail.
The key piece of evidence against Pete Van Winkle, 27, was a graphic surveillance tape that showed most, but not all, of fellow inmate Robert Cotton's murder.
The May 1, 2008, strangulation and beating of Cotton raised questions about security in the jail because the attack went unnoticed by detention officers for more than 15 minutes. The county eventually paid $500,000 to settle a $2 million claim filed by Cotton's family.
Van Winkle never denied killing Cotton, 28, but testified that Cotton hit him. Van Winkle said Cotton told him, "one of us isn't walking out." The tape had no audio, leaving jurors to evaluate the credibility of Van Winkle, described by prosecutor Vince Imbordino as a four-time felon looking to establish a tough-guy reputation in prison.
But defense attorney Tim Agan said in closing arguments that Cotton violated Van Winkle's home by entering his cell without permission. Agan argued the prosecution had no evidence to dispute the defendant's testimony.
"The soundtrack Mr. Imbordino gives you is not proven by this video," Agan said.
The verdict, reached after about two-hours of deliberations, means that jurors will return Thursday to start hearing evidence about whether Van Winkle should be eligible for the death penalty.
If Van Winkle qualifies for the death penalty, the trial would advance to the penalty phase, where jurors would decide if he should be executed.
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