It took a jury just two hours to convict Rodney Renia Young of the murder of 28-year-old Gary Jones in March 2008, and despite the defense's claim of mental retardation, the jury found the 44-year-old was not mentally retarded, meaning he is eligible for the death penalty.
The verdict came after nearly a week of testimony. While the state painted Young as a cold, calculating killer, the defense brought in former teachers of the high school football star who called him a "man child" and "a big teddy bear" who tried but had many limitations.
Young himself did not take the stand in his own defense. During testimony by witnesses and experts brought fourth by the state, Young sat with his head down for the most part, appearing meek, at times even rocking slightly. When the defense introduced witnesses Young sat mostly with his head up, at times smiling at his former teachers and coaches.
During rebuttal testimony from Dr. Matthew Norman, an expert in forensic psychiatry, the jurors learned about how mental retardation is assessed. In addition to an IQ of 70 or below, a person must also have significant limitations on two or more of the following adaptive skill areas: communication, self care, home living, social skills, community use, self direction, health and safety, functional academic, leisure skill and work skills. Intellectual and adaptive deficits must have manifested prior to the age of 18.
Since the school system had destroyed those records there was no way to see any IQ test that Young may have taken to prove his IQ. Doris Jones, the mother of murder victim Gary Jones, testified that all the times she had lived with Young over the seven years they had been involved off and on, he met none of the significant limitations required to diagnose a person as mentally retarded.
During closing arguments one of Young's capital defenders Teri Thompson said that District Attorney Layla Zon wanted the jury to "focus on the tragedy of his [Gary Jones] death."
"We began this trial learning about the value of Gary's life and what he meant to those that loved him," she said. "But it is with the lens of somebody who is mentally retarded that we want you to see all the evidence... This crime took no level of sophistication, no planning... You as jurors have an incredible burden now... as you consider the voices you've heard, we urge you to find that Rodney is indeed responsible, but that he's guilty but mentally retarded."
Zon seemed almost to scoff at the defense's suggestion that jurors attempt to look at the crime through the lens of mental retardation and said as much.
"Look at this case through the lens of the truth not the lens of a group of teachers... who look back fondly at a Rodney they knew 20 years ago... this trial is about the truth, about the evidence... The one thing Rodney said that was true in that interview was that if he wanted to kill Doris he would have killed Doris. That's true. He didn't want to kill Doris, he wanted to kill her son... Is Rodney Young the teddy bear as he's been described? Certainly Gary Jones would say no."
The penalty phase of the trial will begin Monday at 9 a.m. In it the defense will attempt to get jurors to spare Young's life and give him life in prison rather then the death penalty.