A Hamilton man has been found guilty of murder in the 2016 shooting death of Fairfield High School senior Jaylon Knight, according to the Journal-News.
The verdict came today after about eight hours of deliberation following four days of evidence presentation in Butler County Common Pleas Court.
King, 24, was arrested Dec. 8, 2020 after he was indicted by a Butler County grand jury on aggravated murder, murder, four counts of aggravated robbery and two counts of felonious assault.
The jury found King guilty of all charges. Sentencing is set for Sept 23.
Knight, 18, died in his black Hyundai in the 300 block of Charles Street about 5:30 a.m. March 11, 2016. The vehicle was in front of a vacant house, resting against it. Knight was slumped over the steering wheel dead with his cell phone in his lap.
Prosecutors say Knight set up a meeting to sell marijuana on the cold, damp morning via cell phone communication with someone who he thought was a female named “Bri Princess.”
He was directed to a specific location on Charles Street and was told to keep his door unlocked for a quick transaction, according to prosecutors. But when he got to the meeting, a person came out of the dark, shot three times and struck Knight in the head and neck. He died at the scene.
Knight’s car moved forward and was found by police with the engine still running. A handle to the driver’s side door was found in the road about 30 feet away.
During trial, prosecutors showed the jury messages between Knight and “Bri Princess” talking about the meet-up, drugs and the need to make the exchange quick. The messages tell Knight to park in a specific location on the short street. Seconds later he had been shot through the passenger window.
King is either “Bri Princess” or complicit with the person who planned the robbery that turned deadly, said prosecutors.
Expert witnesses testified that King’s fingerprints were on the door handle of Knight’s car. But King took the stand to explain what happened and denied shooting Knight.
King said he got up early to help his father prepare for transport to dialysis. He heard gun shots, which is not unusual in his neighborhood, he said.
King, who was 19 at the time, lived on Fourth Street and worked at a nursing home where he had training in CPR. He said he saw a car against a house on Charles Street, around the corner from his residence, and went out to see what happened and if he could help. His first thought was it was an overdose, he said.
“I went up to the door ... pushed the door handle. I noticed it had two bullet holes in the window. Handle came off,” King said.
He then walked to his father’s house on Chestnut Street. He said he was traumatized by what he saw in the car, didn’t want to be considered a suspect and didn’t want the shooter to come after him.
King admitted to lying to police by making up stories about what happened on the morning of the shooting and making up reasons for his DNA being on the the car.
King was pressed by Butler County Prosecutor Michael Gmoser for a reason why he continued to lie to police and didn’t tell the truth until taking the stand.
“In my community anyone talking to police or looking at the police are looked down on,” King said.
Gmoser pointed out that King continued to change his story when questioned by police over the years, including about the shoe found on his porch that is similar to prints found leading to the shooting scene, and even when his DNA was found on the door handle.
A fellow Butler County Jail inmate, Justin Vinson, took the stand and said that King, whom he knows as “Beefy,” told him he killed Knight during a robbery attempt.
Vinson said that in July, while talking during a recreation period at the jail, King told him “it was supposed to be a robbery, he couldn’t get what the guy had, and he shot him.”
King said he did talk with Vinson and told him about the scene, the door handle coming off the car and lying to police about how his DNA got on the handle, but he claimed he did not say he shot or robbed Knight.
During closing statements, Gmoser pointed out to the jury that the door handle was not found near Knight’s car. It was found near the shell casings in the street where Knight was shot.
“Nowhere in the explanation by Mr. Knight is there a reason for how it ended up near the shell casings, not by the car where it came to rest,” Gmoser said.
But the defense argued during trial that the person who killed Knight on the morning of March 11, 2016 is still a mystery, continuing after years of investigation.
During closing statements, attorney Lawrence Hawkins III said that after five years of investigation, there is still no proof of who shot Knight. He said there are other people who lived on the street and may have been tied to the robbery plan based on the messages between “Bri Princess” and Knight.
Hawkins also said testing of the shell casings found at the scene for DNA or fingerprints may have told police who actually fired the gun that killed Knight, not just who touched a door handle. But the casings were not tested.
“Just because he (King) touched the door handle doesn’t mean he robbed Jaylon Knight. It doesn’t mean he killed Jaylon Knight,” Hawkins said during closings.