Jury spares Clark on murder charge

Published 11:02 am Monday, February 5, 2007

By By ANDY HAMILTON / Niles Daily Star
NILES – An unusual verdict was handed down Friday in the murder trial of Lewis Lee Clark.
The 29-year-old South Bend, Ind. man was accused of shooting and killing Renell Exum, 36, also of South Bend. The incident occurred Aug. 20 of last year in the parking lot of the Oak Dairy Party Store on State Line Road in Niles Township.
Closing arguments in the case ended Thursday, Feb. 1. On Friday in Berrien County Trial Court in Niles the jury of eight men and six women delivered verdicts of not guilty on the charges of murder or manslaughter, but guilty of possessing a firearm during a commission of a felony.
"It was obviously a compromise verdict of some sort," said Clark's attorney, Tat Parish. "You can only be guilty of possessing the firearm … if he used it during the commission of a felony. The only two felonies involved he was acquitted of."
The sentence is a mandatory two years, Parish said, adding his client has already served six months. He also said they plan to appeal the verdict.
"The fact we're going to appeal does not mean we're not happy. We're very happy with the outcome," Parish said. "All it means is that while we would have been willing to settle for this sort of thing before trial, we have nothing to lose appealing."
Parish said he and Berrien County Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Jeff Rhoa both urged the jury not to compromise on the verdict. He also added the jurors were "good people" who worked very hard on the case.
"It was a tough case for the jury. You have a fellow dead and you have a case of what I think I showed was clear self-defense and an accident. I can see where people on the jury can go either way, and a jury verdict has to be unanimous," Parish said.
The next step is a pre-sentence investigation that usually lasts four to five weeks, Parish said.
Attempts to reach Rhoa and Berrien County Prosecuting Attorney Arthur Cotter were unsuccessful.