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Lawrence man found not guilty
Jury acquits defendant of father's beating death

By Kristen Bishop
kbishop@decaturdaily.com 340-2443

MOULTON — Bonnie McLemore Layman sighed in relief Thursday after a jury found her brother not guilty of reckless manslaughter in the death of their 72-year-old father.

Connie Ray McLemore faced up to 20 years in prison had the jury found him guilty of manslaughter for fatally beating his father Cecil McLemore, on Sept. 20, 2005.

"The whole family is just very relieved and happy it's over," said Layman.

The defendant testified Wednesday that he hit his father twice — the second blow knocking them both to the ground — because he thought his father was pulling a pistol out of his pocket.

He admitted that he never saw the gun, but many witnesses testified that Cecil McLemore was known to always carry a pistol and kept many guns at his home.

Accusations of abuse

Family members and friends who took the stand as character witnesses said Connie McLemore was afraid of his father who had abused him and his mother, Wilma McLemore.

The defendant testified that Cecil McLemore had forced Wilma McLemore, to whom he had been married for 50 years, out of their home at gunpoint. Wilma and Cecil McLemore were in the process of a divorce at the time of his death.

"It's sad, but the fact is that Cecil McLemore was a very abusive person. We weren't trying to get sympathy from the jury, but you have to look at it from Connie's eyes," said defense attorney Chris Malcom. "Did he believe his father would use his gun? ... There's no doubt in my mind that Connie was telling the truth."

A reckless-manslaughter conviction requires proof that the defendant was aware of and consciously disregarded a known risk that resulted in death.

"It was a tough case to prosecute because they had to prove that (Connie) knew his father could die from his actions," Malcom said. "... Most people don't think someone's going to die from a physical altercation. It doesn't have the risk of using a knife or gun or something like that."

The jury had, but did not take, the option of convicting Connie McLemore on a lesser-included charge of criminally negligent manslaughter. That charge is applicable if the jury determines the defendant failed to perceive a substantial or justifiable risk.

Malcom said he believed testimony from pathologist Dr. Jim Lauridson was vital to the jury's decision. The defense paid Lauridson to review Cecil McLemore's medical records and autopsy report.

Dr. Emily Ward, a medical examiner with the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences, who performed Cecil McLemore's autopsy, declared his official cause of death was a laceration to the right kidney caused by blunt force trauma. She said that only a kick to the lower back could be strong enough to cause that type of injury.

Lauridson disagreed with her findings.

He testified Wednesday that he believed the actual cause of death was a tear to the pancreatic duodenal artery. He said Cecil McLemore's "constellation of internal injuries" could have been caused by a fall rather than a single kick.

"I really and truly think that when you get right down to it, the actual injuries that were there just did not match the severe beating the prosecution claimed," said Malcom. "Dr. Lauridson's testimony was clear on that, and it really made a difference."

Malcom said during his closing arguments that it was hard for him to relate to Connie McLemore because his own father had always been loving and supportive.

"I would tell everyone with a dad to go home and hug your dad and tell him you love him," he said. "It's tragic that family situations can end up like this."

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