Jury deliberations began this afternoon in the murder trial of John “JW" Ferguson, and will continue Wednesday morning.
Within an hour of starting deliberations, the jury asked to re-listen to several pieces of evidence key to the leading question of this trial: Did Ferguson intend to viciously stab and kill his older brother, Daryl? Or was he just reacting in self defense to his brother’s aggression, and therefore justified in causing Daryl’s death?
Ferguson, 38, of Yorkville, could face up to 25 years to life in prison if the jury of nine men and three women convict him this week. He is charged with one count each of second-degree murder and third-degree possession of a weapon. The jury is also allowed to consider a charge of first-degree manslaughter.
In their first notes to the judge this afternoon, the jury asked to hear the 9-1-1 call that the Ferguson’s mother, Rosemary, made after discovering the brothers fighting in the bedroom at her residence on Jones Place in Yorkville. The jury wanted to try to better understand John Ferguson’s comments in the background of the telephone call, though the audio in the digital recording made it tough to hear in the courtroom.
According to the prosecution, Ferguson can be heard yelling, “Sure ma, call the cops” and “I’m tired of it, you gotta call the cops?,” giving his mother a hard time for calling 9-1-1. Ferguson testified on Monday that he could not remember what, if anything, he yelled to his mother.
The jury also asked to watch the body camera footage from the first police officer on the scene. The footage shows the officer finding Ferguson in the home, at which point Ferguson tells him, "I’m sick of my brother. He keeps trying to kick my ass. He’s in there. He needs an ambulance now!"
The jury also asked to have Judge Michael L. Dwyer read back the legal definition of “justified”. Ferguson is claiming he acted in self defense and was therefore justified in the killing. The jury also asked to see photographs of Daryl Ferguson’s stab wounds, a wound to Daryl’s shoulder and a bruise that John Ferguson suffered under his right bicep.
The jury deliberated for a little more than an hour Tuesday afternoon.
Both Assistant District Attorney Todd C. Carville, the prosecutor, and First Assistant Public Defender Luke Nebush gave their closing arguments Tuesday morning.
Assistant District Attorney Todd C. Carville argued that the five stab wounds that Daryl Ferguson suffered in the early morning hours of July 17, 2018, were perfectly placed to cause the most damage. Carville told the jury that John Ferguson was growing increasingly annoyed with his brother over weeks of sharing a bedroom, and that annoyance built to anger, rage and an attack that Daryl did not see coming.
“These pictures show a one-sided affair, where Daryl Ferguson was stabbed five times in predominately vital areas of his body, and never had a chance to defend himself,” Carville said of the volume of photographs taken of the crime scene.
“As important as what they show you is what they don’t show you. What they don’t show you is a murder scene with a struggle, with a fight, or with any justification. This was not a brawl that you would expect by one that was fighting for his life. This was one man who was armed, and the other who wasn’t."
Carville said the first stab wound was likely to the stomach, and then John Ferguson likely grabbed his brother by the shoulder and pulled him down into a second stab would to the chest, severing the pulmonary artery. He said this would account for the cuts Daryl Ferguson suffered on his shoulder.
Carville told the jury that Daryl Ferguson likely fell to his knees next, and that John Ferguson went behind him and then reached around to the front to stab Daryl twice more in the right side of his chest. He said this would account for the direction the blade was facing when the forensic pathologist studied Daryl’s wounds during the autopsy.
Carville said the final stab wound to the back was John’s way of claiming victory, like lodging an ax into a stump after cutting down a tree. Carville said John then lifted Daryl up onto the bed, where their mother saw them, and that is how John likely suffered the wound to his right arm.
“These stab wounds are from an individual that has had enough, that is angered, that is enraged, that has the intent to kill,” Carville told the jury.
“Does five stab wounds in those locations sound like somebody who was just trying to hurt? Or just trying to defend themselves? Or does it sound like somebody who was on the offensive and had the intent to end Daryl Ferguson’s life?"
Carville pointed out that the trial wasn’t a “popularity contest” between the brothers, referring to the testimony that Daryl was a cocaine addict who routinely started fights with his brothers and girlfriend. “Daryl was who Daryl is."
He said it was John who “introduced a knife to a fistfight” and “didn’t chose any other blunt object to supposedly resist Daryl Ferguson’s violent attack.”
Carville brought passion to his argument, loudly confronting Ferguson on the attack.
“How did it feel to put a knife through your brother’s body and kill him?” he shouted in front of the jury. "How did it feel to penetrate those layers of skin, muscle, ribcage and hit that vital organ?”
Carville suggested that a lingering divorce, increasing debt, a lack of his own home and the fact that he was rooming with his annoying brother could have driven John Ferguson to the “anger” and “rage” necessary to kill Daryl. He suggested a text message Daryl sent about getting a big payday for a recent job “maybe, just maybe” led to an argument between the brothers over John wanting money.
In his closing argument, First Assistant Public Defender Luke Nebush recounted Ferguson’s own explanation for what happened in those early morning hours.
According to Ferguson, he was having a beer with Daryl in the garage when Daryl suddenly got angry over his volunteering to help John move the next day. Ferguson testified that he had to escape from his brother’s anger three times inside the home, including having Daryl choke him and threaten to kill him. Ferguson told the jury on Monday that he felt scared of his brother, so he grabbed a knife from the kitchen and retreated to the bedroom.
When Daryl tried to block the bedroom door and reach for the knife, John Ferguson told the jury that he stabbed his brother in the stomach and the two of them struggled backwards towards the bed. Ferguson testified that he couldn’t recall the next three stab wounds, that they must have happened during the struggle. Ferguson said he can remember stabbing his brother one last time in the back as he climbed out from under Daryl on the bed.
“There were multiple physical altercations between the Ferguson boys. Just because nobody ever had to go to the hospital doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t have, that they couldn’t have,” Nebush told the jury, referencing the multiple physical fights between the brothers going back several years.
"Just because a weapon was never introduced to defend yourself doesn’t matter, doesn’t matter at all. Because at the moment this incident occurred, he was within his right to defend himself by any means necessary to get out of that bedroom."
Nebush refuted Carville’s claims that John Ferguson had any sort of training or skill in order to pick the most vital parts on Daryl’s body to stab. He said the idea that the various stresses in John Ferguson’s life were enough to get him to kill his brother were “ridiculous”.
“The idea that he just couldn’t handle it, and went after Daryl because of it, is crazy,” Nebush told the jury.
"Saying he killed his brother with intent, or wanted to intentionally cause serious bodily injury, because of these issues is ridiculous. And there is no evidence to support it."
Nebush told the jury that it was Daryl’s own addiction to crack cocaine and alcohol that led to Daryl’s anger and threatening behavior that morning.
“It was his increasing addiction to crack that let some inner demons out. It was his addiction that fueled his anger. And when he got angry, he would act very violent,” Nebush told the jury.
“The act of choking somebody is an act of deadly force. Just because there may have been prior incidences where he let go doesn’t mean that you sit there and take it, because he let go a couple times before."
In regards to the claim of self-defense, Nebush pointed out to the jury that New York State law says there is “absolutely no duty to retreat in your own home” and therefore John Ferguson was not required, under law, to leave the house and drive somewhere else when Daryl got angry with him.
“JW may have been suffering some issues, but it did not translate to wanting to get rid of Daryl,” Nebush told the jury.
“JW was afraid of Daryl."