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Jury in murder trial quits for the night

After 10 hours of deliberating Friday, a Pinellas County jury came up with a decision in the murder trial of Joshua Allen Walther: Try again in the morning.

The jury was sequestered in a motel late Friday night and is scheduled to convene again today.

Jurors began deliberating early Friday afternoon after hearing closing arguments in the weeklong trial in the shooting death of 17-year-old William R. Casey Jr. three years ago.

In closing arguments, prosecutor Rick Sheinis tried to convince the jury that Walther helped a friend murder Casey in a patch of woods late April 10, 1989.

"Josh Walther was the one who set the scene for this," Sheinis said.

Prosecutors say Walther, 19, and Jason Beau Staples, 20, planned to kill Casey and Daniel Yockey, who was 15 at the time. Yockey was choked by Walther in the woods but survived.

Staples has pleaded guilty to shooting Casey to death in a dispute over a girlfriend. While in jail after his arrest, he also tried to hire someone to kill Yockey.

This week, Staples testified that Walther was in on the plan to commit murder. Staples told the jury that Walther's role was to kill Yockey, the only other witness to the shooting.

Walther's attorney, John Fernandez, told jurors that they shouldn't take Staples at his word.

"What's the government doing here?" Fernandez asked rhetorically. "We use the rotten one to get the good one."

Walther faces charges of first-degree murder and attempted first-degree murder.

Over the course of the trial, prosecutors and Fernandez argued whether Walther helped plan the murder and tried to strangle Yockey or was unaware of the plot.

Both Staples and Walther testified that they lured Casey to some woods in Oldsmar by telling him they would search for marijuana plants. Yockey came along unexpectedly, Staples said. In the woods, Walther and Staples agreed, Staples was to confront Casey about the girlfriend.

Walther denied knowing anything about Staples' plan to kill Casey. He also denied that it was his job to kill Yockey. But he did admit tackling and choking Yockey after the shooting, but only to quiet him down, Walther testified.

Prosecutors said Staples will be sentenced to life in prison. If convicted, Walther also could be sentence to life in prison.

The jurors are scheduled to begin deliberating again today at 9 a.m.

_ MIKE JACKSON

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