PRINCETON — Gibson Circuit Court jurors found Jacob Wilson guilty of murder after about an hour of deliberation Friday in connection to the 2018 shooting death of Buckskin resident Samuel Bethe.
Wilson, of Evansville, also faced a habitual offender enhancement, which he chose to stipulate to and the court accepted.
A sentencing hearing is scheduled at 9 a.m. June 8. Wilson asked Judge Jeffrey Meade if he could waive the pre-sentence investigation report, and have the sentencing done Friday in court.
The judge said the sentencing hearing is very important and will be the time he hears mitigating and aggravating factors from the defense and prosecution, including the fact Wilson chose to stipulate to the habitual offender charge.
He said it allows both sides to present their arguments for sentencing, and Wilson would also be able to testify on his behalf.
"Some sentencings are like mini trials," he said.
Gibson County Prosecutor Mike Cochren asked the judge to dismiss the enhanced sentencing option of life without parole, along with Wilson’s pending strangulation and battery charges from April 5, 2018. The judge granted both motions.
Prior to deliberation, the jury listened to closing arguments Friday morning.
Defense attorney Shaunda Lynch opened her closing with a variation of Blackstone’s ratio. “It’s better to let 1,000 guilty men go free than to convict an innocent man,” she said.
Lynch said the prosecution could not prove it was Wilson who killed Bethe, before offering multiple other explanations as to who may have.
The evidence and testimony lead to a lot of other possibilities, she said.
Lynch also focused on Ashley Robling’s guilty plea and conviction last summer in Gibson County Superior Court for the murder of Bethe, telling the jury Wilson’s initial confession was to protect Robling. “He was willing to take the fall for her,” she said.
She also questioned the handling of evidence and testimony from prosecution witnesses.
Lynch reminded the jury of earlier police body camera video from Gibson County Sheriff's Deputy Sgt. Bruce Vanoven that was missing audio, and questioned what might have been missed in that time frame.
She said "potentially very important evidence" from the scene of Bethe's trailer was not collected, like a second shell casing. "That's reasonable doubt," she said.
Lynch said she’s lived with the case for about three years and has found aspects of it confusing. “You’ve lived with this case for five days,” she told the jury. “You should be confused too.”
Cochren said he's also lived with the case for three years and wasn't confused at all. "(Robling) didn't pull the trigger. He did," Cochren said, pointing to Wilson.
Cochren said even if jurors believed Robling pulled the trigger, Wilson would be just as guilty through Indiana Code on aiding and inducing in the commission of an offense.
He said the prosecution proved its case, and asked the jury to find Wilson guilty. "I think that's the only, only verdict that can be had here," he said.