Leonard “Lenny” Joeris was convicted of first-degree murder by a Hamilton County jury Thursday in the February 2010 shooting death of his wife.
A six-person jury returned the verdict at 10:30 a.m.
Joeris was sentenced by Circuit Judge Greg Parker to life in prison later that day.
On the final day of his trial, Joeris told the jury he was innocent of murdering his wife of 23 years. Lorrie Joeris was shot to death on Feb. 21, 2010 following an evening walk with Leonard at their Jasper home. Leonard Joeris, who says a struggle ensued after Lorrie produced a gun, faced charges of first degree murder as he pleaded his innocence Wednesday morning.
“When that woman was mad ... yeah, she would have shot me,” He told the jury.
Leonard said he and Lorrie were returning home from a walk when he asked her to give him her MySpace password. Leonard admitted that for months he had suspected Lorrie was having an affair. Two of his co-workers testified that he sometimes left work early to check up on Lorrie. That evening, he said Lorrie refused to hand over her password. She became angry, he said, and told him the best thing for him to do would be to leave. He said Lorrie threatened to take their house, which she owned, and children away from him. Lorrie also told him she was having an affair with a 17-year-old and planned to marry him, Leonard testified.
When he told her no court would ever grant her full custody of their children, she went to a jacket she had hung on a tree and pulled out a .38 caliber Derringer pistol. Leonard told the jury that he knocked the gun out of her hand and they struggled before Lorrie fell to the ground. Leonard said she turned as if she were about to go after the pistol on the ground.
Leonard testified that when he kicked the gun away from her it went off, hitting Lorrie in the head.
“I did not intentionally shoot her or expect for the gun to go off. I was just reacting quickly,” Leonard testified.
The state focused on the varying accounts Leonard gave of events surrounding the shooting. Leonard admitted on the stand that he had lied to several different individuals. He said he was afraid that if he told the story of the struggle, he would be arrested. Leonard said he did not want his children to end up in foster care.
Leonard looked at the jury and stated sternly that he did not shoot his wife.
Leonard admitted to Assistant State Attorney Craig Jacobsen that it was after he learned that his original story that Lorrie accidentally shot herself would not hold up forensically, that he changed his account of what happened that evening.
As Leonard was being intensely cross-examined, his mother Betsy James stood at the back of the courtroom waving an amulet she later told the Jasper News is called the “Istanbul Eye” and is used to protect against evil. James also placed 12 oyster shells around the perimeter of the Hamilton County Courthouse to invite in good spirits, which she said is a Native American practice.
The defense rested its case around 2:40 p.m. Wednesday.
During closing statements, Jacobsen called Leonard Joeris a liar and a murderer. He reiterated much of the forensic evidence against Leonard, including testimony by medical examiner Dr. Valerie Rao. However, he focused on Leonard’s dishonesty throughout the investigative phase of the case.
“The defendant has convicted himself through his lies,” Jacobsen said to the jury.
Jacobsen also pointed to the the lack of remorse shown by Leonard the night of Lorrie’s shooting.
“Some people show emotion in different ways. They hold it in. But that’s not Mr. Lenny. He’s an emotional man. He cries,” said Jacobsen, in reference to testimony given by Leonard’s co-workers that he cried when speaking with them about Lorrie’s suspected affair.
“She (Lorrie) told him she was going to take the most precious little thing in his life away from him ... and he shot her,” Jacobson said.
Defense attorney Baya Harrison said during closing arguments that Lorrie’s affair was not simply a “little affair that ended in a death.”
“This woman was utterly out of control,” he said, pointing to her affair with a 17-year-old.
“She had the gun, not Lenny,” he continued.
Harrison said Lorrie told a fellow teacher she wanted to buy a gun for a friend, which Harrison speculated was for her boyfriend. He also said Lorrie and the boyfriend had exchanged text messages that said “One shot, or two or three?”, “One shot?” and “How many shots?”
“She was so consumed with this guy. She was so utterly in love with him ... she didn’t know what she was doing,” said Harrison.
But Jacobsen asked the jury not to buy the lies told by Leonard Joeris.
“Yes, Lenny was scared to tell the truth about what happened. Why was he scared? Because he murdered his wife,” said Jacobsen.
He continued: “Yes, Lorrie had affairs. But Lorrie Joeris did not deserve the death penalty.”
After approximately six hours of deliberation leading into Thursday morning, the jury of two men and four women agreed with Jacobsen.
At 10:30 a.m. Thursday morning, the jury found Leonard guilty of premeditated murder with a firearm in the first degree.
Some jurors had tears in their eyes as they were dismissed from the courthouse.
During Leonard’s sentence hearing, Lorrie’s father and brother addressed the court.
Her brother James Hinton told Judge Parker that his family had been severely and irreversibly damaged by Lorrie’s shooting. He said his mother suffered a mental breakdown over her daughter’s death and had to be admitted to a mental health facility for nearly two weeks.
“She lost something that she loved,” Hinton said with emotion in his voice and tears in his eyes. “In my heart, I think she will never be the same.”
He said the ordeal has also taken a physical toll on his father.
“I had a sweet and loving daughter who was always good to me,” said Lorrie’s father Owen Hinton.
He said his family’s prayers have now been answered.
Parker responded: “This is one of the saddest and most tragic events that in my lifetime I have heard.”
Parker said the Hinton family and Westen Joeris handled themselves with grace and not anger throughout the proceedings.
“And within grace, there is justice,” he said.
Amidst an emotion-filled courtroom, Parker sentenced Leonard Joeris to life in prison.
Leonard showed little reaction to the guilty verdict or life sentence.
Westen Joeris, who testified against his father, told the Jasper News he thinks he will now be able to find closure. His caretakers James and Ann Hinton said they are ready to go on with the rest of their lives.
The Hinton family said they are in agreement with the jury’s verdict.
“I believe the jury made the right decision,” James Hinton said.
James said his memory of his sister has not been tainted by the discomfiting evidence and allegations made against Lorrie’s character.
“She done things she shouldn’t have, but she was my sister. I’ll always remember her as my loving, sweet sister,” he said.
The family thanked the State’s Attorney’s Office, the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office and all of the individuals who worked on the case.
“I praise God for her being as good and sweet to me as she was and for the time I had with her while she was here on this earth,” said Owen Hinton.