A Marianna man has been inside the Jackson County Correctional Facility since 2017. On Thursday, he became a free man after a jury found him not guilty in a fatal shooting.
Ja’Drian Gilbert was previously accused of shooting and killing Gregory Barnett Jr. on March 18,2017 at a home on Old Cottondale Road in Marianna. According to the police report by Marianna Police Department, Gilbert got into an altercation with Michael James and the victim, Barnett before shots were fired. Gilbert had left the scene prior to any law enforcement arriving. At the time, Marianna Police Chief Hayes Baggett said, “We arrived and there was an individual laying in the yard, that appeared to have been shot. EMS was summoned and they pronounced the victim as deceased.” The suspect was identified as Gilbert and a search began for him. On March 19, 2017, Gilbert turned himself in. Baggett said, “I received a call that said that he would turn himself in Sunday, the 19th. And he came in approximately 1:20 p.m. with his attorney.” Gilbert complied with that statement. He was ordered to be held without bond by Judge Wade Mercer at first appearances on March 20, 2017. At the first appearance Mercer said, “I am going to set you no bond for today’s purposes.” Baggett said, “I received a call that said that he would turn himself in Sunday, the 19th. And he came in approximately 1:20 p.m. with his attorney.” Gilbert appeared ready to deny the murder charges before his attorney stopped him. “They ain’t given me no bonds, if I’m a murderer, but I was there with my kids. I called away to a birthday party. I wouldn’t even been there if I.” At that time his attorney spoke up, “Your honor, I’m going to ask my client not to speak anymore.”
After more than two years, Gilbert faced a jury. During the three-day trial, the jury was presented evidence, heard testimonies from witnesses, including Gilbert and on Thursday, heard from the attorneys one last time.
During closing arguments, Assistant State Attorney Shalla Jefcoat stated Gilbert was known to lie when it benefited him, saying Gilbert changed his story of what happened multiple times.
“First it was ‘I’ve never had a problem with these guys. I don’t know why they’re approaching me.’ That’s his first statement and now two and half years later, it’s ‘well they were robbing me,” said Jefcoat.
Gilbert’s attorney, Roderick Vereen admitted his client did lie to officers in his initial interview in fear of being charged with possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.
The defense’s argument throughout the trial was Gilbert was acting in self-defense on the day of the incident. He says Gilbert got into a physical altercation with James before seeing Barnett pull out a gun.
“And guess what? He drops it and at that point, Mr. Gilbert sees it and he reaches for his and what happens? Mr. Barnett doesn’t back away from the gun, throw his hands up. Dr. Radtke says he’s in a bent over position at the time he’s shot. He (Gilbert) had to react and his reaction was to fire.”
Doctor Jay Radtke is the Chief Medical Examiner for the 14th Judicial Circuit and testified in the trial.
After investigation, no weapon was found at the crime scene. Jefcoat argued if James or Barnett had a firearm, things might’ve happened differently.
“If Gregory Barnett and or Michael James had a gun, then why did Michael James have to run off at the sound of a gunshot? Why didn’t he fire his own weapon? Why didn’t he pick up Gregory Barnett’s gun and use that to try and shoot the defendant? Because they didn’t exist,” Jefcoat said.
The state charged Gilbert with second-degree murder, arguing even if he didn’t have intention to hurt anyone, Gilbert still took the life Barnett.
“I submit to you that firing a gun at a person, even if you didn’t intend to cause death, you don’t care if it does,” Jefcoat said.
Vereen argued in his final words to the jury, the state didn’t prove the charges against Gilbert.
The jury deliberated for about three hours before bringing back a verdict of not guilty.
Gilbert had a previous charge of introduction of contraband into jail but he entered a no contest plea on Thursday as well and sentenced. However, Gilbert was granted time served for the time waiting in jail for the second-degree murder trial.
Gilbert has been discharged from the Jackson County Correctional Facility.