The trial of Benjamin Cayea for the murder of Shannon Jones ’15 wrapped up with closing statements Wednesday after three days of testimony covering 15 witnesses.
The 12 members of the jury now have to decide whether to convict Cayea of second-degree murder, convict him of second-degree manslaughter or acquit him in Jones’ Thanksgiving 2014 death. The jury can turn to the manslaughter charge if they find that Cayea acted “recklessly” to cause Jones’s death, but did not have the malice required for a murder conviction, according to The Ithaca Journal.
In his closing argument, defense attorney Matthew Van Houten told the jury that Cayea loved Jones and that her death was the result of a “passionate” sexual encounter gone awry. Throughout the trial, the defense argued that Jones and Cayea often invoked the use of choking — the method by which Jones was killed — in their sex life.
“This was something that Shannon pushed him to do beyond his level of comfort,” Van Houten said. “And also that their passionate arguments often transitioned into passionate sex.”
During the trial, Cayea took the stand and retracted the confession he gave immediately following Jones’s death, instead promulgating the sexually-fueled version of events.
In his closing statement, Van Houten also argued that the jury’s interpretation of last November’s events depends almost entirely on Cayea’s state of mind, and thus cannot be proven beyond a reasonable double, as required of the prosecution in a criminal case, The Journal reported.
In his closing argument, Deputy District Attorney Andrew Bonavia disagreed, saying that the inconsistencies in Cayea’s story proves that his defense tactic was nothing more than an attempt to trick the jury.
He rejected Van Houten’s assertion that the jury’s lack of insight into Cayea’s mind forecloses on the possibility of a conviction, pointing out that the jury is empowered to reasonable assess whether malicious intent was present.
“That’s a violent attack. That shows the defendant’s rage, that he lost it, as he said in his interview with police,” Boniva said. “In no way were those injuries consistent with consensual, sexual choking.”
Boniva also pointed out that Cayea’s failure to alert authorities when Jones became unresponsive pointed to his guilt, according to The Journal. He reminded the jury of testimony that showed that while Jones would have lost consciousness after 20 to 30 seconds of strangulation, Cayea would have had to have continued to apply extreme pressure for another two or three minutes to kill her. During this time, Boniva said, Cayea would only have maintained hold with the purpose of taking Jones’s life.
“Every second was a conscious decision for him to keep going,” he said.
The jury deliberated for four hours Wednesday, but having yet to reach a verdict, will return to the courthouse to continue their discussions Thursday morning.