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Closing arguments in Howard High case complete, judge's expected decision Thursday

Delaware Public Media

Lawyers delivered closing arguments Tuesday in the case involving the death of Howard High student Amy Joyner-Francis last April.

Trinity Carr is charged with criminally negligent homicide in that death, while two others - Zion Snow and Chakiera Wright - face conspiracy charges.

Social media's role


The prosecution argued the attack on Joyner-Francis in a Howard High bathroom on April 21st of last year was a premeditated conspiracy based on text messages the night before the incident.


The messages indicate Carr was angry at Joyner-Francis for “switching up” – slang for changing the way they act around a certain person or group.


Delaware state prosecutor Sean Lugg says the messages also show that Joyner-Francis attempted to offer an explanation of what was going on, telling her “I wasn’t saying this about you – I was speaking generally to a friend.”


“Amy didn’t realize things were stewing,” Lugg said. “She didn’t realize things were going to continue.”


Butt Carr’s defense attorney John Deckers argued otherwise: he says testimony from friends of Joyner-Francis indicate that Joyner-Francis did become irritated by Carr and even asked for a bathroom pass from her English teacher during the day on the 20th so she could confront Carr.


He adds group messages between Carr, Snow and Wright the evening before the fatal bathroom incident failed to show intent to harm Joyner-Francis, but says the girls were instead discussing nails and GPAs.


Lugg showed a 48-second video of the incident – with Carr punching and kicking Joyner-Francis and dragging her into the handicap-accessible stall of a Howard High bathroom.


Just a fight?



The prosecution argued the incident was not a mere fight but instead a beating, claiming the fighting was one-sided. Carr’s defense attorney John Deckers argued otherwise – pointing to a lack of blunt force trauma and blood from the medical examiner’s report.


Deckers referred again to testimony from Joyner-Francis’s friends who say she didn’t back down from Carr’s advances during the fight. The video does show Joyner-Francis holding onto Carr’s jacket and refusing to let go at the urging of others. The video, however, does not show the minutes leading up to the 48-second video - the timeframe during which witnesses say both Carr and Joyner-Francis continued to engage with each other and escalate the argument.


The defense also highlighted prior testimony from Howard High staff noting the high number of violent fights in the school in recent years, often with large crowds of students surrounding and egging the upset students on.


“This was not the first fight at Howard High School,” Deckers said. “If peer pressure is a crime we should spend less time studying for the SAT and more time fingerprinting each other.”


Role of clothing, accessories


Both the prosecution and defense called the choice of clothing all involved – including Joyner-Francis – into question.


Lugg noted Joyner-Francis’ choice of sandals instead of sneakers that she wore to school on the 21st. He cited that as evidence that she wasn’t prepared to fight, along with a shoulder bag that remained on her shoulder throughout the bathroom incident.


He also made note of Zion Snow’s sneakers, seen kicking Joyner-Francis in the face during the video.


However, Snow’s defense attorney Kathryn Lunger fired back, questioning why Snow would have decided to get her nails done the day before a fight.


Defense attorney Colleen Durkin cited client Chakiera Wright’s hoop earrings she wore to school on the 21st, saying she wouldn’t have worn them if she’d knowingly been involved in a premeditated attack.


Cause of death


Deckers argued Carr couldn’t have foreseen that Joyner-Francis’s death was a foreseeable consequence – given Joyner-Francis rare, underlying heart condition that was determined her ultimate cause of death, and was only detected after her death.


He said even the team at Howard High responding to the incident didn’t think a medical bag would be necessary, given the school’s frequent fights.


“How do we hold her [Carr] to the standard that not even medical doctors are held?” Deckers asked.


Deckers also criticized the state for what he says was an exaggeration of the facts to justify prosecution, and said there’s a dearth of case law in support of the prosecution.


"I think we all want to find and assess blame, that is understandable," Deckers said. "But exaggerating the facts and exaggerating the law itself is not justice."


Delaware Family Court Judge Robert Coonin is expected to issue his ruling Thursday morning.



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