It was a drug deal gone bad, and when it was over, one man was dead and two were in jail facing murder charges.
No one disputes that Brion Overton shot Tyrone Lyles, but Overton claimed he pulled the trigger in self-defense while his cousin, Shyheim Jiles, struggled with the victim in the back seat.
For attorney Brian Karalus, who represented Jiles, it was a pretty straightforward case. After 17 years of defending clients accused of pretty much every imaginable offense, it was Karalus’ first murder case. Because of the unusual way it ended, it’s not one he will forget.
In a rare move for a state court, the Hennepin County attorney’s office prosecuted both men in the same trial, rather than separately. Karalus fought for separate trials, but lost. He represented Jiles while another attorney represented Overton. Because prosecutors believed the shooting happened during an attempted robbery, both men faced first-degree murder charges.
“If we lose, [Jiles] goes to jail for life,” said Karalus. “He was 20 years old. It weighed on me.”
Before the trial, prosecutors offered Jiles a deal, but only if he would testify that he and Overton intended to rob Lyles. Karalus tried to explain to Jiles that if he testified that Overton intended to rob Lyles, Jiles would get out of jail while he was still young. Jiles had only minor offenses on his record and he had plenty of time to change the direction of his life.
During a meeting with prosecutors, Jiles admitted he and Overton had smoked pot and taken other drugs, but he stuck to his story that the shooting was in self-defense.
“I believed my client,” said Karalus. “A lot of times you don’t believe them, but I actually believed the guy. He was telling the truth.”
So they went to trial in June with Jiles’ future in doubt.
Even though Karalus is a youngish 43, he’s a bit of a throwback. He looks up to veteran defense attorneys such as Earl Gray and Joe Friedberg and he wears a shiny gray suit along with long hair and a beard. He has a raspy voice and a fondness for salty language.
“I’m loud, I’m aggressive,” Karalus said. “When I’m in trial I think that I’m LeBron James and the judge is the referee. I want the judge to just let me do my thing and get out of the way.”
The judge in this case, however, was Pamela Alexander and she does not tolerate theatrics. “When you are in her court, it’s her court,” said Karalus. Several times during testimony, Karalus said Alexander gave him “the look,” as if to head off his narrative. When the case went to the jury, Karalus was satisfied he’d persuaded the jury of his client’s innocence.
“I feel great,” Karalus said. “The state had to prove beyond a reasonable doubt they didn’t do it in self-defense. I really felt I won the case.”
While he waited for the verdict, Karalus went for an Amstel Light at Zelo restaurant. But the first day passed without a decision. So did the second day. By the third day, Alexander told Karalus that the jury was hung, and that she would let them go home.
Karalus couldn’t understand why jurors would be indecisive on the fate of his client. So he reread the jury instructions, which were given only once, but had both men’s names on them.
“What if they think they have to have unanimous decisions for both cases?” Karalus asked Alexander. “I wasn’t objecting to the judge’s instructions, I was just raising the possibility the jury might be confused.”
Alexander, perhaps sensing a stunt by Karalus, denied his request to read the instructions again, and she dismissed the jury. The men would face another trial.
Karalus called Jiles’ brother, who had paid his fee, with the bad news. The brother would have to pay him for another trial, but the man had tapped out his credit. Karalus told the man they would work something out, then went to back to Zelo. He was devastated by the setback, so he traded up from the Amstel Light.
“Grey Goose on the rocks,” he told the bartender.
An hour later, the brother called Karalus back. The brother had recognized a juror on the street and asked him about the case. The juror said they had unanimously found Jiles not guilty, but were hung on the Overton case.
“Don’t let him leave,” Karalus said, rushing to the scene.
Meanwhile, jurors who lingered behind also told Alexander that they had found Jiles not guilty. A jury form left behind proved that they had acquitted him at 10:15 that morning, but didn’t tell anyone.
Alexander called the parties back to court. “I’m thinking, ‘Is she going to yell at me again?’ ” said Karalus. “At that point she said, ‘I’ve made up my mind,’ and she acquitted Mr. Jiles.”
Karalus shook his head.
“What if his brother doesn’t see the juror?” Karalus said. “What if [the judge] discharges the jury and they don’t stick around? Either he’s [potentially] going to prison for the rest of his life, or he walks out.”
Mr. Jiles walked out.
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