Jury convicts Tennessee man in 2000 Kentucky teen's killing
Posted: Wednesday, April 9, 2008 9:42 pm
CLINTON, Ky. (AP) — A jury convicted a Tennessee man Tuesday of kidnapping, raping and murdering a western Kentucky teenager eight years ago.
Jurors deliberated for more than three hours before returning the guilty verdicts against Quincy Omar Cross of Tiptonville.
Cross, 31, was one of five people charged last year with killing 18-year-old Jessica Currin. The charges were announced nearly seven years after her body was found burned behind a school in 2000.
Currin’s mother, Jean Currin, smiled and folded her hands together near her face after the verdict was read in a far western Kentucky courtroom. Her reaction was shown in video streamed live on the Internet from the courtroom by Paducah station WPSD-TV.
“You don’t know how excited I am,” Jean Currin told The Paducah Sun. “I’m pleased and happy, happy for Jessica.”
“It will always be hard because we don’t have her, but this chapter in our life, we can get behind us,” said Jean Currin, who with her husband, Joe, is raising their daughter’s son, Zion, who was an infant when she was killed.
Joe Currin had led protests critical of local authorities and complained that the case went unsolved for too long. He personally petitioned the state attorney general to get involved. That office took over the investigation in 2006.
“I can’t celebrate with something like this,” Joe Currin told the newspaper. “Nothing is going to bring her back, but justice needed to be done. It was bad what happened. It shouldn’t have happened.”
Cross’ lawyer, Vince Yustas, declined to comment on the verdict to the newspaper, citing a gag order in the case.
Judge Tim Stark asked the jury to return Wednesday to decide the punishment for Cross, who could get the death penalty.
Prosecutors relied heavily on two witnesses who had once been charged with killing Currin but later pleaded guilty to evidence tampering and abuse of a corpse and agreed to testify.
Those witnesses, Victoria Caldwell and Vinisha Stubblefield, testified that they were with Cross the night of the killing.
Assistant Attorney General Barbara Maines Whaley said in closing arguments Tuesday that Cross threatened Caldwell and Stubblefield after the killing and forced them to take part in the disposal of Currin’s body.
“He was in control, and there’s never been any doubt about that,” Whaley said.
Former Attorney General Greg Stumbo, who took over prosecution of the case in 2006 from the Graves County prosecutor, told the AP that justice was served by the verdict.
“If there was ever a case that should have a harsh penalty, this was one,” said Stumbo, now a state representative. “It’s just a wonderful thing after all the Currin family’s been through.”
Yustas, a public defender, argued that Caldwell and Stubblefield gave several conflicting reports of the night Currin was killed. He said both women have repeatedly lied about the case and can’t be trusted.
“Admitted liars must not be believed when a man’s life is at stake,” Yustas said.
Yustas said police got it right the first time when they charged two other men with killing Currin. The cases against those men were dismissed by a judge in 2003.
Caldwell said during the trial that she and four others — Cross; her cousin, Tamara Caldwell; Jeffrey Burton; and Stubblefield — were present the night Currin was killed. Tamara Caldwell, of Mayfield, and Jeffrey Burton, of West Paducah, are facing rape, kidnapping and murder charges and are to be tried later.
“Before it all unfolds, hopefully all those who broke the law and were part of that conduct that led to her death, justice will be served, and they’ll all be put behind bars,” Stumbo said.
Whaley said Cross threatened to hit Currin if she didn’t let him touch her while the six were riding in a car. Currin kept protesting and Cross hit her with a small bat, Whaley said.
“He made good on the threat,” she said.
Whaley said Cross’ threats were what kept Stubblefield and Victoria Caldwell silent for so many years.
“We knew the witnesses were telling the truth because we cross-checked them,” Stumbo said. “And they knew things that weren’t in the newspapers.”
Whaley also pointed to an entry in Victoria Caldwell’s personal journal that was used as evidence in the case. The entry said, “They found the body today. I hope they don’t find out it’s us.”
Yustas argued that the journal, 11 pages on a spiral binder, was a fake.
He also said there were too many discrepancies in Stubblefield’s and Vinisha Caldwell’s accounts of the events leading up to Currin’s death.
“Somebody’s got to be lying. Or maybe they’re both wrong,” he told the jury.
The high-profile trial was moved from Graves County to nearby Hickman County, at the western edge of Kentucky, due to pretrial publicity. Throughout the trial, WPSD streamed a live video feed from the courtroom on its Web site.
Published in The Messenger 4.9.08
Quincy Cross convicted of Kentucky teen's killing