A seven-man, five-woman jury convicted Candice M. Brown of two counts of obstruction of justice after only about an hour of deliberations Wednesday, Jan. 22 afternoon in White County Circuit Court.
Brown, 31, was accused of lying to White County Sheriff Doug Maier and Illinois State Police Special Agent Rick White during questioning on Aug. 31, 2012, concerning the whereabouts of her boyfriend, Danny K. Coston, during the early morning hours of Aug. 21, 2012.
Brown and Coston lived together at the time in Centerville, only some two miles from the locations of the murders of Jacob Wheeler and Jessica Evans during the early morning hours of Aug. 21, 2012.
Coston has since entered guilty pleas in connection with the murders of the young White County pair and the sexual assault of Evans and has been sentenced to 53 years in prison.
Brown's trial got underway Tuesday morning with jury selection. That process lasted until 3:10 p.m. Tuesday when presiding Judge Barry L. Vaughan of Hamilton County presented the jurors and one male alternate with their initial instructions.
White County State's Attorney Denton Aud gave the state's opening statement to the jury, telling them the evidence in the case, which included her video and audio recorded interview with Maier and White, would speak for itself.
Matt Vaughn of Fairfield handled the defense counsel duties and told the jury in his opening statement Aud was right, the evidence would speak for itself. But, he cautioned the jurors to keep an open mind and listen to all the evidence before making up their minds.
Maier took the stand late Tuesday afternoon and testified about the investigation into the homicides of Wheeler and Evans. Maier told the jury the body of 17-year-old Evans had been found on Aug. 22, 2012, a day after she was reported missing by family members. Wheeler, at that point and as far as investigators knew, was still missing.
Evans' body was found in the bed of Wheeler's charcoal gray Dodge Dakota pickup.
Pieces of a vehicle were discovered to the north of the location of Evans' body on Aug. 31. Investigators were able to use numbers on those vehicle parts to connect them to a green Toyota pickup. Investigators knew Coston lived nearby and drove a green Toyota.
Coston and his pickup were located at Coston's place of employment. He agreed to come to the sheriff's office and talk to investigators.
Once at the office, Coston provided very little information. Brown was asked to come in for an interview and drove herself to the sheriff's office where she met with Maier and White.
The DVD of the interview was played for the jury and she began her interview by saying Coston had been drinking at the New Haven American Legion with his friend, Steve Duckworth.
Brown told the investigators Duckworth's wife was upset with him for going to the Legion and she asked Brown to accompany her to New Haven to retrieve her husband. Brown said she drove separately to New Haven where Duckworth and his wife argued before she followed Duckworth and Coston back to Duckworth's home where she then followed Coston home.
She said Coston stayed home with her all night and they went fishing together the next morning.
Brown then changed her story and said Coston had left for about 15 minutes to go the river and put the boat in for their morning fishing trip. She told the investigators he was drunk, she got worried about him and went to where she knew he would be along the Little Wabash River and brought him home. He then stayed all night.
Brown again changed her story when confronted by investigators that her stories weren't adding up. She apologized for lying at first then gave a different story in which she went to New Haven, followed Coston home then he went to the river. She went and got him then he left again. Eventually, she left a two-hour time frame where Coston was not with her.
She also told the investigators she had seen Coston talking to a male who was fishing at the river and he had a small, black pickup.
Coston was confronted with the information and eventually gave police enough information to find Wheeler's body in remote southern Wayne County.
White's testimony was first on the agenda for Wednesday morning's continuation of the trial. His testimony echoed that of the sheriff, except that he accompanied Brown to her residence following the interview to look for evidence like clothing, weapons, etc.
Vaughn called only Maier to the stand for the defense and tried to point out that Brown's initially misleading statements had not impeded the investigation, and if so, only for a few minutes.
During closing arguments, Aud told the jury the evidence was clear and Brown had not came forward with the information about being in the vicinity of the homicides until asked by police.
Vaughn called Brown's statement contents the two minute lie and the 30 second lie. He asked the jury to consider if that was a crime. He also asked the jury to put aside any prejudices about the rumors and speculation indicating Brown was somehow involved in the homicides, telling the jury that if there were any evidence of her being involved, the state would have charged her with murder or being an accessory to murder. That simply was not the case, he reiterated.
The jury heard the closing arguments until well into the lunch hour and did not return from lunch until about 2:30 p.m. They returned to the courtroom about 3:45 p.m. with their verdicts and found Brown guilty of both counts.
She will be sentenced at 9 a.m. Wednesday, March 26, and faces a possible sentence ranging from only a few years in prison to 30 months probation.
Aud said after the trial he appreciated the jury reaching the correct verdict and expressed hope the verdict would send the message to the public that lying to the police is not OK.
He commented about the defense closing statement that Brown had no involvement in the slayings and said he charged her with nothing more than the evidence available.
"There is no evidence to go further than this," he said.
Vaughn told The Times he was disappointed with the verdict and added there were no winners in the case with two young people senselessly murdered. He said Coston deserved the death penalty and blamed the politicians for Springfield for taking that option away from the citizens of White County.
He reiterated his closing argument comment about Brown not being connected to the homicides.
"If there were other charges Denton could have brought, he would have, and rightfully so," he said.