Jury continues deliberations in 2015 Savannah State murder trial

Local News

SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – A man charged with the shooting death of a Savannah State University student (SSU) is awaiting his fate.

Jury deliberations lasted roughly 7.5 hours Thursday three days into the trial for the murder of Christopher Starks, who was a junior and football player at SSU. Justin Stephens is accused of fatally shooting Starks in the school’s Student Union in late Aug. 2015.

Prosecutors contend the gunfire occurred shortly after a verbal altercation and fistfight broke out between Stephens and Starks.

Christopher Starks (L) Justin Stephens (R)

The defense says the district attorney’s case doesn’t meet the burden required for a guilty verdict, but prosecutors pressed jurors to remember witness testimony.

“The evidence that you have heard in this case makes it clear that Justin Stephens is guilty of every count in this indictment,” said Noah Abrams, Chatham County Assistant District Attorney. “It is clear that he picked a fight with Christopher Starks, that he had a gun on him the whole time and when things started to go, he pulled it out and he shot him dead. That’s the evidence in this case.”

In a surprise move Wednesday, Stephens decided to execute his right not to testify in his defense, moving the trial to closing arguments and jury instructions.

“I told him not to testify. Ultimately it’s his call, but I advised him not to testify. It would have been gross incompetence of me to tell him to testify in this case,” said David Burns, defense attorney, adding, “This case is a downpour of reasonable doubt. This case is saturated from one end to the other with reasonable doubt.”

There are 10 counts in the indictment against Stephens, including murder. If convicted on all counts, he faces life in prison.

Amid deliberations, the jury asked the judge three questions related to the assault charges in the indictment. The judge responded and the jury went back to the deliberation room until shortly after 7 p.m.

The third day of the trial ended with no verdict. It will resume on Friday at 9:30 a.m.

This story is developing. News 3 will continue to bring you the latest on-air and online.

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