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Verdict is guilty, but accused is relieved

As the clerk read the verdict shortly after noon Thursday, Willie Andre Haynes turned slightly in his seat and, almost imperceptibly, mouthed these words:

"Sweet. Sweet."

Accused of stabbing, beating and burning an on-and-off girlfriend, Catina Washington, Haynes, 38, had faced charges of first-degree attempted murder and first-degree arson.

The jury took 1 1/2 hours to find him guilty of a lesser charge: aggravated battery.

Had he been convicted on the original counts, he could have faced 60 years in prison. But the aggravated battery charge carries a maximum sentence of 15 years, and he could get as few as six. Sentencing is set for Dec. 13.

"I thought the jury did a very good job," defense counsel Geoff Cox said after the trial. "There was no premeditated design to kill (Washington)."

Prosecutors said the incident began at a party on Sept. 17, 2005, when Washington, 34, angered Haynes by talking to another man. Later, Washington and Haynes had an argument in her room at the Gray Moss Inn on Church Avenue, and violence followed.

In the courtroom Thursday, eight family members and friends of Haynes' pumped their fists in silent celebration of the verdict.

During closing arguments, Assistant State Attorney Stacey Sumner brandished the screwdriver that, authorities say, Haynes used to stab Washington. (Haynes said he only "poked" her.) She produced the bottles of rubbing alcohol and nail polish remover that, authorities say, Haynes emptied on Washington before throwing a lit match on her. (Haynes said Washington doused and lit herself.) Sumner also showed jurors photos of Washington's wounds.

But the trial also featured a reluctant star witness in Washington, who whispered her way through her testimony and refused to answer a string of key questions from Sumner.

In soft, measured tones, Cox honed in on those lapses in his closing argument.

He brought up a DNA blood sample of Haynes' that later disappeared. He reminded jurors that the state never looked for the knife with which Washington was accused of attacking Haynes.

And Cox said Sumner repeatedly asked Washington leading questions during the trial, an accusation that provoked Sumner to interrupt Cox three times to object. The state also could not convince jurors that Haynes burned down "a structure and its contents," a premise for the arson charge.

Jurors left quickly after the trial, and neither Washington nor anyone related to her was present.

Outside the courtroom, Shirley Missouri, Haynes' current girlfriend, beamed as she held their 8-month-old son.

"I'm shaking," she said. "I can't believe it."

Chuin-Wei Yap can be reached at cyap@sptimes.com.

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