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Jury convicts teen in slaying

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Posted: Tuesday, November 14, 1995 12:00 am

Lincoln Keith remained slumped over the defense table long after the jury's verdict was read.

The teen-ager -- convicted Monday evening of capital murder -- struggled at first to contain his emotions. But as the judge began polling the jury, Keith covered his contorted face with trembling hands and sobbed.

It took jurors less than two hours to find Keith guilty of shooting Rachel Juanita Green to death in a murder-for-hire plot in which Keith had the leading role as triggerman.

Green's death resulted from a bizarre scheme concocted by her granddaughter and then carried out by Keith and four other teens, District Attorney John Smith said in his closing argument.

And he resented implications made by the defense team that prosecutors had “manufactured evidence'' and encouraged law enforcement officers to lie in an effort to get a conviction, Smith added.

There is simply no way Smith could have made up the facts in a case where six teen-agers devised elaborate plans to kill somebody's grandmother, Smith said.

“I couldn't have thought that story up if my life depended on it. This thing is amazing to me.

“...See if you would dream this up if you were the DA,'' he continued, reading aloud a police detective's testimony that Keith confessed to killing Green because he had been promised $400 by the victim's granddaughter.

Defense attorney Steve Brannan had earlier honed in on that portion of Sgt. Snow Robertson's testimony, asking why the detective's description of Keith's behavior during the arrest had varied during several pre-trial hearings.

But Smith argued that “the gist of (Robertson's) testimony all says the same thing.''

Green's granddaughter, Melanie Green, is accused of enlisting the aid of Keith, now 19, and four other teen-age friends to kill the elderly woman. Green strongly disapproved of the 14-year-old girl's relationship with Josh Humphries, who was then 19, several witnesses have testified.

Melanie Green, Humphries, Dale Streckfuss and Brandi Jo Middaugh all have been charged with capital murder.

Jason Trent, who accepted a 99-year prison sentence in exchange for his testimony, told the jury last week that Melanie Green had agreed to pay Keith $400 for her grandmother's slaying.

However, a jury cannot convict someone of capital murder by relying solely on an accomplice's testimony. Because Trent participated in the murder, jurors had to decide during their deliberations whether the witnesses who corroborated his story also could be considered accomplices.

Brannan argued that at least three of those witnesses were accomplices. But prosecutor Linda Deaderick noted during her closing argument that none of those witnesses ever were charged in connection with Green's murder.

Keith could be sentenced to death during the punishment phase of his trial, which begins today.

The last death penalty case in Ector County was in 1983, Smith said in an interview after Keith's conviction. And no one has actually been sentenced to death here since the 1950s.

Getting the death penalty in a case that involves a teen-ager who looks much younger than his years won't be easy, Smith acknowledged.

“It will be the most difficult task I've had as a district attorney. But I intend to put on testimony that I believe will give this jury the information they need to make the proper decision,'' he quickly added.

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