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January 17, 2014

Defense begins in VSU murder trial

VALDOSTA — The prosecution rested its case Thursday, and the defense called character witnesses in the trial of the man accused of killing a Valdosta State University freshman in 2012.

Darien Joseph Meheux, 19, is on trial for the murder of Jasmine Benjamin, 17, a VSU student who was found dead Nov. 18, 2012, in a study room of her campus dorm.

Day four of the trial began with testimony from Georgia Bureau of Investigation Special Agent Mike Callahan. Callahan has been present at the prosecutor’s table throughout the proceedings, and he answered questions about the evidence collected during his investigation.

During questioning from Meheux’s lawyer, Steve Roberts, Callahan testified that the full-length gloves that Meheux is seen wearing in surveillance footage from VSU’s Georgia Hall dorm were never found. He also stated that a palm impression collected during the investigation did not match Meheux’s.

Callahan also fielded several questions from Roberts concerning the testimony given by a witness who said she saw Benjamin propped up against a pipe in a stairwell the day she died. That witness also said she talked to a black male in the doorway leading to that stairwell who stated that the girl in the stairwell was drunk.

That witness did not identify Meheux as the man she saw and spoke to when investigators showed her a photo array that included Meheux’s photograph. The witness did, however, identify Meheux as that man during her testimony Tuesday.

The prosecution rested its case against Meheux after Callahan’s testimony, at which point Roberts made a motion for acquittal, arguing that the state had not provided physical evidence to convict his client. Southern Circuit Judge James Tunison said he believed sufficient evidence existed to continue with a jury trial.

Roberts called several defense witnesses to speak to Meheux’s character, including a pastor, a former girlfriend and other acquaintances mainly from the Lawrenceville area.

Defense witness Nita Joshi said she had attended Central Gwinett High School with Meheux and Benjamin and considered both of them good friends. She testified she had never seen Meheux become physically violent with Benjamin or any other girl.

During cross-examination, Assistant Southern District Attorney Tracy Chapman presented an enlarged copy of text messages exchanged between Joshi and Benjamin. The messages from Benjamin to Joshi stated that Meheux would not leave her alone and was frequently trying to enter Georgia Hall to attempt speaking to her.

“I have to be on edge in my own damn building. Not even my home is safe,” texted Benjamin to Joshi.

Joshi responded with a message advising her to tell an officer if she did not feel safe.

Defense witness Corey Hardwick, a VSU student, said he was acquainted with Meheux. Hardwick testified that he saw Benjamin exiting Georgia Hall sometime between 9-11 p.m., Nov. 17. Chapman said the medical examiner placed Benjamin’s death at sometime between 3-6 p.m. that same day, but Hardwick was adamant that he had seen her.

“Are you saying that the medical examiner is lying,” said Chapman.

“Must be,” said Hardwick.

Meheux’s trial continues today, and could go to the jury.

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