COLUMBIA — Prosecutors Richard Hicks and Andrea Hayes congratulated investigators and embraced members of Mitchell Kemp's family Tuesday night while defense attorneys quickly gathered their belongings.
After almost nine hours of deliberation, a jury found Tausha L. Fields guilty of first-degree murder and armed criminal action in the death of Kemp, one of Fields' former husbands.
Kemp was killed Aug. 24, 2004, at a south Boone County farm Fields shared with then-husband Gregory W. Morton.
Morton pleaded guilty in June 2009 to fatally shooting Kemp, but his charge was downgraded to second-degree murder in exchange for his testimony against Fields.
Morton is expected to be sentenced to 19 years in prison in a hearing Tuesday.
Both sides agreed to Fields' presence during Kemp's murder but argued over the nature of her involvement. The defense attorneys argued Morton killed Kemp because he was jealous and Fields agreed to help cover up the murder out of fear for her and her daughter's safety. Prosecutors argued successfully that the murder was Fields' idea and the result of her manipulation of Morton.
Although Presiding Judge Gary Oxenhandler warned spectators not to react when he read the verdict, exhausted relatives and supporters of both Kemp and Morton struggled to contain themselves.
Tracy Kemp, the victim's youngest brother, slammed his hand down and threw his head back; on either side of him, his wife, Mischelle Kemp, and his mother, Carol Kemp, shook with tears.
In a statement made outside the courthouse shortly after the reading of the verdict, the Kemp family thanked the Boone County Prosecutor's Office and the detectives who helped make the case against Fields.
Tracy Kemp said it was hard to gauge the number of people whose lives had been affected by the murder.
Mitchell Kemp was "a very good brother, son, father and friend," Tracy Kemp said, adding that regardless of what was said about the victim during the trial, his brother was a good guy and would be missed by many.
Tracy Kemp said it was difficult for the family to hear all the details of the murder. But, he said, the Kemp family is "a strong family" and they were glad to finally have closure on this.
"I'm glad this is all over, I'm glad that justice came," said Shane Kemp, Mitchell Kemp's son. "She got what she deserved."
Prosecutors were also pleased with the verdict.
"I'm particularly happy for the family," Hicks said. "They've been through a long process. They've been through a lot."
Hicks also addressed defense attorney Paul Hood's previous allegations that the state's plea agreement with Morton had been handled inappropriately.
Hicks said it would have been impossible to offer the same sort of deal to Fields.
Fields lied repeatedly, he said, because she doesn't know how to tell the truth.
"Lying is like breathing to her," Hicks said. "How do you cut a deal with someone like that?"
Hicks said the jury's verdict validated his office's decisions to charge Fields with first-degree murder and to offer Morton a plea agreement.
"She may not look like it, but she's vicious," Hicks said. "The state of Missouri is really safer with her off the streets."
Oxenhandler said that though there is only one potential sentence for the conviction of first-degree murder, there are several sentencing options for the conviction of armed criminal action. He ordered a sentencing assessment report to be returned in approximately six weeks.
Fields' attorneys said they plan to appeal. They declined to offer further comment.