WASHINGTON COUNTY (KFSM) – A Washington County jury found former Razorback football player Joshua Melton not guilty of second-degree murder Thursday morning.
Jurors began deliberating at 9 a.m. Thursday whether Melton was guilty in the beating death of his friend Michael Gover after a night of drinking last year. The jury delivered its verdict just after 10 a.m. and acquitted Melton of all charges. He walked from the courthouse following the verdict.
Prosecutor Matt Durrett said his team is disappointed by the outcome.
"It certainly is a tough case and we knew that going on, there were a lot of issues for the jurors to look at, but we felt like this was a case that the jury certainly needed to decide, but it wasn't the outcome we wanted or felt was appropriate," Durrett said.
Melton's attorney Drew Ledbetter said he was pleased with the outcome, especially because of medical evidence presented in the trial. He said 30 days after the arrest, the medical examiner's report showed that Gover died of a heart attack, not from his injuries.
"I've been saying for the last year and a half that this is a case that should not have been charged, it's the first thing I said in my opening statement at this trial and the last trial, it's the first thing I said in my closing argument in this trial, this is not a crime," Ledbetter said.
Melton, part of the 2001 University of Arkansas team that went to the Cotton Bowl, was arrested Aug. 28, 2013, after going into a “rage” and punching 30-year-old Michael Gover multiple times, according to a preliminary report from the Washington County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office. The West Fork resident was found dead in Melton’s home in Fayetteville, police said.
This week's retrial comes after a mistrial was declared in Melton’s murder trial July 2. After two jurors were dismissed in the original trial, the jury box was left one juror short of the required 12. The trial was delayed again in October.
One juror was dismissed in the original trial after nodding off and conceding he had not heard all the testimony. An alternate was available to take that juror’s place, but then another juror approached the judge later that same day and said she was not emotionally equipped to handle the testimony in a murder trial, officials said.
The retrial began Monday, with closing arguments ending Wednesday evening. Ledbetter said the mistrial in July was frustrating, because it delayed Melton's innoncence.
"We were disappointed, we were very disappointed, we wanted to put on our evidence then, but it didn't work out and that was no one's fault," Ledbetter said.
Following his arrest in 2013, Melton was released from the Washington County Detention Center on $100,000 bond. He pleaded not guilty at his arraignment in October 2013.
Melton was arrested in connection with Gover’s death after telling a 911 operator he was unable to wake the victim after a fight following an all-night alcohol binge, according to the preliminary report.
Police found Gover dead inside the house near the front door. He had blood on his face and chest, according to the report.
Responding officers found Melton sitting in his driveway with his hands covered in blood. He was slumped and crying, the preliminary report states.
Melton and Gover had been drinking until about 2 a.m. at Hooters and J.J.’s Grill in Fayetteville, police said. They drove to Melton’s home at 6316 W. Copper Ridge Lane and drank more alcohol. Melton told police he last saw the victim lying on the floor breathing, the report states.
Police said the altercation was preceded by the victim vomiting on the suspect’s carpet. Melton allegedly confronted the victim, and the victim responded with “lewd comments,” according to the preliminary report.
The victim then grabbed Melton inappropriately, leading to a fight between the two men, the report states.
Melton went to bed after the altercation and found the victim unresponsive when he woke up and checked on him, the report states. Melton later admitted to police his earlier comments about he and the victim “swapping licks” were made because the suspect knew “he went too far,” according to the report.
“The initial call he made a statement that they had been kind of exchanging licks, making it almost sound like it was some type of game, just trading punches as it were, but as we got into it a little bit further we realized that was not the case,” said Sgt. Craig Stout, Fayetteville police spokesman.
The responding officer states in the report that Melton was “cooperative and concerned throughout the interview.”
“He maintained there was never any intention to cause the victim’s death,” the officer states in the report.
The six-foot-five, 289-pound Melton, who played at Batesville High, was a center on the Razorback football team that went to the Cotton Bowl under coach Houston Nutt in 2001, losing 10-3 to Oklahoma, according to arkansasrazorbacks.com.