Cincinnati murder trial halted during jury selection after purportedly missing weapon found in police evidence

A murder trial that was set to commence this week in Cincinnati, Ohio, was thrown for a loop and ended before it even really began during the jury selection process Monday.

Charges were dismissed and the case was dropped after the suspected murder weapon, which prosecutors asserted had never been found following a fatal 2019 shooting, was discovered to have already been in the possession of the police as the lead detective reviewed the evidence, the Cincinnati Enquirer reported.

Supposedly missing murder weapon found in police custody

A man named Delrico Peoples had been arrested and charged with the June 2019 murder of a teen named Brandon Phoenix, who had died after being hit with a stray bullet during a drive-by shooting while waiting at a bus stop.

Peoples, who admitted to driving the car but insisted he didn’t know who did the shooting, had been held in custody ever since that incident, and his trial was finally scheduled to begin this past week even though prosecutors believed — and even informed the prospective jurors — that the murder weapon had never been recovered.

Yet, while the jury selection process got underway, the lead detective in the case was doing a final review of the evidence and somehow came across the gun that, according to preliminary tests, appeared to be the one used in the deadly shooting of Phoenix.

Making matters worse, it was then revealed that the gun had been in the possession of the Cincinnati Police since October 2019, four months after the shooting had occurred, and had been confiscated from another man while Peoples was already in jail and facing charges.

Charges dismissed … at least for now

Local NBC affiliate WLWT reported that Cincinnati Police policy is to test fire and document in a national ballistics database all weapons that are recovered, and it appears that the preliminary analysis indicated that this particular gun matched the weapon used to kill Phoenix. For some unknown reason, though, further testing was not done on the firearm, and prosecutors were never informed that it fit with the case.

The Enquirer noted that Hamilton County Assistant Prosecutor Jeff Heile initially asked Common Pleas, Judge Melba Marsh, for a delay of the trial to conduct the more thorough ballistic testing, a process that could take up to four to six weeks, but the judge refused to grant that request.

Given Peoples’ presumption of innocence and the fact that he had already been waiting so long, Marsh said, “I can’t justify holding him for a longer period of time, so the State of Ohio can do tests that take four to six weeks — that’s just not going to happen.”

As such, Heile moved to have the charges against Peoples dismissed without prejudice, meaning they could be refiled at a later date. Peoples won’t be released from custody, though, as he is also facing separate felonious assault charges for punching a corrections officer and breaking bones in the guard’s face last year.

Disappointment all around … but also unsurprising for some

WLWT reported separately that Phoenix’s grandmother expressed her disappointment over the mix-up and apparent incompetence of the police and prosecutors, to say nothing of the continued lack of justice for the murder of her grandson. An attorney for Peoples said the defendant was disappointed too, as he was anxious for the opportunity to prove his innocence.

Meanwhile, a local defense attorney named Jay Clark told the outlet that he was unsurprised at what had occurred and accused Hamilton County authorities of routinely losing or failing to turn over potentially exculpatory evidence to defense teams ahead of criminal trials — which, if true, would be a serious problem that must immediately be addressed.

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