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Jury finds Lincoln man not guilty of murder in love-triangle killing

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A jury Wednesday found a 24-year-old Lincoln man not guilty of second-degree murder or manslaughter and a gun charge in the shooting death of another man in a central Lincoln apartment last September.

Lendell Harris, visibly emotional, interjected a "thank you," after District Judge Kevin McManaman asked the presiding juror if what the bailiff had just read was the jury's verdict.

Then, Harris wiped away tears before leaning into his attorney, Michael Fitzpatrick, hugging him as they sat at the counsel table.

Outside the courtroom afterward, Fitzpatrick said Harris and his family feel horrible for what happened to Alonzo Jones on Sept. 5 at the apartment Jones shared with Jennifer Nguyen near 44th and O streets.

Jones returned home from work unexpectedly that morning to find Harris and Nguyen in the bathroom getting ready to smoke marijuana, Harris' gun on the counter. Both said Jones burst in the door and led Harris, who had grabbed his gun to leave, into the living room, where Jones shoved him onto the couch and stood over him.

Harris said that's when Jones reached for Harris' gun and Harris fired twice.

Harris called 911, then went to the Lancaster County Jail and turned himself in.

Jones, 28, was dead in less than a minute.

"It was a very unfortunate case. They were both dating the same woman and it was just a horrible situation," Fitzpatrick said.

'That's when I shot': Man charged with murder says victim reached for his gun

But, he said, the only witness in the room, Nguyen, gave conflicting accounts on the stand. First, she said she could see Jones' hands on Harris' shoulders right up until the shots were fired. Then she said she couldn't see either of their hands and that Jones may have been reaching for Harris' gun when Harris fired, as Harris testified Tuesday.

"The police and investigators did a fantastic job," the attorney said. "But when the one person in the room testifies one way and then another, it makes it impossible for a jury to reconcile that." 

He called it a tragic case but said the system worked.

"In the United States of America we're allowed to defend ourselves," Fitzpatrick said.

In closing arguments a day earlier, Deputy Lancaster County Attorney Julie Mruz said you can't bring a gun to a fistfight.

"And in this case it's not even a fistfight. It's pushing," she said.

Murder trial begins for Lincoln man accused of fatal shooting in September

Mruz said Jones had come home to find an armed man in his apartment, and it was reasonable to think he was just trying to disarm Harris.

"Objectively, it was not reasonable to shoot Mr. Jones, in his own home, while Mr. Jones is unarmed," she said. "Mr. Harris brought the gun and the lethal force on himself."

Fitzpatrick countered, saying that the state had done a wonderful job of proving that Jones was killed.

"What they haven't been able to prove is ... it wasn't a justifiable killing. It wasn't a justifiable homicide," he argued.

The jury of five women and seven men got the case just after 4:30 p.m. Tuesday and returned with its verdict at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday.

Prosecutors upgrade charge to second-degree murder in fatal shooting in September

Reach the writer at 402-473-7237 or lpilger@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSpilger

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Public safety reporter

Lori Pilger is a Norfolk native and University of Nebraska-Lincoln graduate who has been a public safety reporter for the Journal Star since 2005.

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