Jury begins deliberating in Midgyett murder retrial

Thursday, November 8, 2007 | 11:11 p.m. CST; updated 3:24 p.m. CDT, Friday, July 18, 2008

COLUMBIA — A Clay County jury began deliberations late Thursday in the retrial of a Columbia man accused of bludgeoning a friend to death with a piece of wood during an attempted robbery in March 2006.

The jury deliberated until 11 p.m. Thursday and will continue deliberations at 8:30 a.m. Friday.

This is the second time that 28-year-old Travis Midgyett had been tried in the case. A jury deadlocked in a March trial against Midgyett.

Attorneys wrapped up their closing arguments Thursday, shortly after a convicted accomplice in the case took the stand at the Boone County Courthouse to testify that Midgyett was responsible for the 2006 beating death of Carlos Kelly.

Rodney Cunningham, 30, told the jury that Midgyett swung the landscaping timber that struck Kelly in the head and killed him March 29, 2006, in Kelly’s Cynthia Drive home.

During closing arguments, Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Steven Berry said Cunningham’s decision to testify was not made lightly, referencing reported threats Midgyett made to Cunningham in October if he took the stand.

“He chose to spend 20 years in prison as a snitch,” Berry said. “He’s going to spend the rest of his life looking over his shoulder.” Cunningham was found guilty of first-degree attempted robbery and second-degree murder by a Buchanan County jury in May.

He was charged along with Midgyett and 29-year-old Felson Barney in the slaying. Charges against Barney were dropped after a witness recanted his statement and the jury in Midgyett’s trial deadlocked. His retrial continued Thursday with Cunningham’s explanation of what happened that night.

For two hours, Cunningham explained his relationship with Midgyett and the details of what happened at Kelly’s home. The two met when Cunningham was a teen through mutual friends, he testified. In February 2006, after Cunningham was released from prison after serving time on drug charges, he began spending time with Midgyett and the two men started selling drugs together.

The night before Kelly’s murder, the two men discussed robbing Kelly at a local hotel. They had heard he just received a new shipment of cocaine, Cunningham said.

“Travis asked if I was cool with it, and I said yeah,” Cunningham said.

In the early morning of March 29, the men met at Midgyett’s cousin’s home on Demaret Drive. From there, Midgyett, Cunningham and another cousin, Aaron Midgyett, got into a car with a man Cunningham couldn’t identify, and headed for Kelly’s residence, Cunningham said.

Cunningham testified that he remembered Travis Midgyett walking up to the door, twisting the knob and opening it before pulling it closed again.

“Travis went in first, and I went in second,” Cunningham said. “Carlos was laying on the couch.”

Cunningham testified that Travis and Aaron Midgyett woke Kelly up. Once he was awake, Kelly started yelling at the men and struggling with Aaron Midgyett, Cunningham said.

“Travis left briefly and came back with a board,” he said. “Then he struck Carlos Kelly.”

Berry asked Cunningham how hard Midgyett hit Kelly.

“I didn’t think he hit him that hard,” he said. “He only hit him once. I thought it was sufficient force to knock him out but not to kill him.”

Cunningham and the other two men then went through the house searching for drugs, Cunningham testified. Cunningham said he spent some time searching the upstairs bedrooms. At one point, the men stopped their search to see if Kelly was alive.

“I kicked him to see if he would move and he didn’t,” Cunningham said. He said he decided to fill a jug with cold water and threw it on Kelly but still got no response.

Cunningham said he “didn’t intend to be hands-on in the crime,” but things got out of hand.

“My intentions were to get drugs,” he said, “It wasn’t about hurting anybody.”

During cross-examination, defense attorney Christopher Slusher asked Cunningham why he would help rob his good friend, Kelly. The two had been friends for a while, even spending time in jail together, Cunningham testified. He referred to Kelly as his “homeboy,” because of all of the favors he did for him.

Cunningham justified robbing his friend as “doing what he had to do.”

Cunningham still had two pending drug trafficking charges once he got out of prison in 2006. When Cunningham refused to cooperate with authorities, the charges were filed and he received two 16-year sentences that ran concurrently. His sentence was later reduced to 11 years.

For the second-degree murder and first-degree attempted robbery charges, Cunningham received 20 years for each, running concurrently. In exchange for his testimony, the state is allowing Cunningham’s trafficking charges and the murder charges to run concurrently, making six or seven years the most Cunningham would serve in connection with Kelly’s murder.

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