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Mistrial Declared In Asheville Murder Case

7:59 AM, Feb 6, 2013   |    comments
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Asheville, NC (ACT) -- For a second time, a Buncombe County jury has failed to reach a verdict in the trial of a man charged in a fatal stabbing at a party.

Judge Mark Powell declared a mistrial after jurors said they were hopelessly deadlocked over the guilt or innocence of David Lee Penley.

Prosecutors had sought a second-degree murder conviction for Penley in the June 19, 2010, death of Antonio Laron Wray, who was killed by a stab wound to the heart.

Eleven of 12 jurors were in favor of convicting Penley, 35, of voluntary manslaughter, but one juror maintained that he was not guilty, Assistant District Attorney Chris Hess said Tuesday. Verdicts in criminal cases must be unanimous.

So prosecutors allowed Penley to plead guilty to the lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter. Powell sentenced him Friday to 25-30 months in state prison.

"We decided we needed resolution of the case," Hess said of the decision to offer a plea deal. "For the family, you're disappointed."

The jury deliberated about 11 hours over two days before telling the judge they were unable to reach a unanimous verdict.

Penley's first trial in January 2012 also resulted in a hung jury, with 10 of 12 jurors favoring a voluntary manslaughter conviction.

According to court testimony, Penley attacked Wray, 21, after Wray punched him in retaliation for Penley striking his girlfriend. Others at the party at Sand Hill Apartments also hit Penley, witnesses testified.

Defense attorney Bill Auman told the jury that Penley acted in self-defense.

"Mr. Penley is cornered in the kitchen," Auman said in his opening statement. "There was one stab wound, not multiple stab wounds. I'm going to ask you to find him not guilty because he was defending himself."

Hess argued that Wray was needlessly killed.

"A fist fight ended with a life being lost," Hess told the jury. "The actions of David Penley were not justifiable. His actions were without regard for human life."

Friends took Wray to Mission Hospital, where he died while in surgery less than five hours after the attack.

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