A Dallas County jury continues deliberations Thursday in the trial of a Dallas man accused of capital murder in the abduction and stabbing of 18-year-old Zoe Hastings.
If convicted, Antonio Cochran would automatically be sentenced to life in prison. To find him guilty of capital murder, jurors would have to conclude that he was also guilty of kidnapping her.
The jury began deliberating at about noon Wednesday and went home for the night at about 4:30 p.m.
Defense attorneys opted to put no witnesses of their own on the stand Wednesday morning. Cochran did not take the stand in his own defense.
Zoe Hastings disappeared on Oct. 11, 2015, after leaving to return a movie at a Walgreens and attend church. Her body and the family’s missing minivan were found the next morning down a steep creek embankment. Hastings was outside the van with her throat slashed. The van was nose first in the creek.
The bloody murder weapon was found nearby with Cochran’s DNA on the handle.
Prosecutor Justin Lord told jurors that Hastings’ parents had gone through every parents’ worst nightmare. He recounted for them how her parents tracked her phone using an Iphone app, happening upon the scene not long after her body was found.
“This wasn’t just any murder. This crime is an unspeakably brutal, heinous and evil crime. Make no mistake, … this is the man that did it,” Lord said, pointing directly at Cochran.
Prosecutors told jurors that Hastings had been abducted, raped and stabbed to death. Lord reminded them of the defensive wounds on Hastings’ hands, telling them that she had fought for her life.
“What you have listened to over the last three, four days is a parent’s worst nightmare,” lead prosecutor Pat Kirlin told jurors. “You have seen and heard some of the most horrific things that anybody could hear about your child.”
He showed jurors a picture of Hastings prior to death, telling them that she was a “vibrant, intelligent, smart 18-year-old girl.” Jurors visibly flinched when he showed them a picture of her after her death.
Holding up the knife, he told them that Cochran’s DNA alone on the handle should be enough to find Cochran guilty.
Defense attorney Paul Johnson told jurors that prosecutors had not met their burden of reasonable doubt. He reminded jurors of the inconsistencies of the testimony of the two eyewitnesses and the fact that Cochran’s DNA was on the weapon was not enough “because we know from the expert testimony in this case that we have no idea when that DNA was deposited.”
“We are here because there is evidence that ties Antonio Cochran to the crime, but there is no evidence beyond a reasonable doubt,” Johnson said.
Johnson, however, did not follow through on a promise he made in opening statements to offer jurors an explanation for why Cochran’s DNA could have ended upon the knife.
He told jurors that the fact that Cochran could not be excluded as the contributor of hair and DNA evidence from the rape kit exam did not amount to corroboration because no way experts could say he was for sure the contributor of that DNA to the exclusion of all others. He also pointed out that the medical examiner had testified that there was no trauma to indicate that Hastings had been sexually assaulted.
He also reminded jurors that there was no DNA or fingerprints belonging to Cochran found in the van.
“How is it possible for Antonio Cochran to commit this crime and not leave another single piece of evidence?” he asked jurors. “It was a blood scene. It was a messy scene.”
Johnson medical examiner had testified that there was no trauma to indicate that Hastings had been sexually assaulted.
In his closing statement, Kirlin argued that Hastings had, in fact, been raped, in spite of what they heard from the medical examiner. He told jurors that it was just “common sense” that Cochran left the DNA on the knife handle during the killing.
Prosecutors reminded jurors that the one and only time that Cochran’s phone was that area around the time of Hastings’ disappearance, that Cochran repeatedly looked at news stories about the crime after Hastings was found. He pointed out that Cochran sent text messages to a former girlfriend on the day Hastings’ body was found, saying that his life was over and that she would find out why soon enough.
“The evidence is there and I ask you to follow the evidence,” Kirlin said. “The defendant and no one else is guilty of capital murder.”