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Jury convicts, Osborne gets life

By By Suzanne Monk / managing editor
April 8, 2004
It's been awhile since a Lauderdale County jury deliberated long into the night. The jury considering Joseph Osborne's fate walked into the jury room at 2:55 p.m. Wednesday. The verdict, guilty, was read six hours later almost to the minute.
Osborne was indicted for murder in the November 2002 suffocation death of 5-year-old Charlie Hopkins, and stood trial this week in Lauderdale County Circuit Court.
Nobody knows what issues jurors wrestled with, but Assistant District Attorney Lisa Howell may have stated their dilemma best when she said, in her closing argument: "The only way to find this man not guilty is to say Sam is lying."
Sam Hopkins was 3 years old when his older brother, Charlie, died in November 2002.
He was the prosecution's most important witness during Osborne's trial an eyewitness to his brother's death. Sam said "Joey" Osborne killed Charlie.
The testimony that convicted Osborne was probably this exchange between Sam and Howell:
Sam: (Joey) took Charlie's breath away.
Howell: How did he do that?
Sam: Like this.
As Sam spoke those words, he placed his hand over his own nose and mouth.
This was not a capital murder case, which means the death penalty was not an option. The district attorney's office did not suggest any premeditation on Osborne's part. Howell said Osborne simply became so angry at Charlie, because the child wouldn't go to bed, that he couldn't control himself.
Circuit Judge Larry Roberts handed down a mandatory life sentence.
The day Charlie died
The boys' mother, Cindy Hopkins, had the stomach flu on Nov. 6, 2002, and had been in bed most of the day.
Osborne had been attending truck driver's school in Jackson, but had returned to Lauderdale County in late October to paint a house to make some extra money. Cindy let him stay at the house while he was in town, but said he was wearing out his welcome.
Osborne was taking care of the boys that day. A friend of his, Kimble Frazier, had come over and ended up spending the night.
During three days of testimony in Lauderdale County Circuit Court, Charlie was described by several witnesses as a headstrong child and Osborne couldn't get him to go to bed that night. In the morning, his mother discovered his body in his bed. She called 911, but it was too late. Charlie was dead.
The initial assumption was that Charlie had died of a drug overdose because his bed, and the floor around it, were littered with Zyrtec pills.
Cindy buried her son on a Monday. On Tuesday, detectives from the Meridian Police Department told her Charlie's stomach and blood showed no trace of Zyrtec. He had died of suffocation.
It would be weeks before anyone realized that 3-year-old Sam knew how it happened.
After the verdict
It was late, and the strain of waiting for six hours showed on everybody. The judge cautioned friends and family on both sides, the victim's and the defendant's, that he would not tolerate any outbursts.
After the verdict was read and the jury was dismissed, Cindy Hopkins and her group left the courtroom quickly and quietly an apparent gesture of compassion for the defendant's family. They went to the third floor, where the district attorney's office is.
On the other side of the room, the bad news was sinking in. It is terrible to watch the mothers, sons, sisters and children of a man who has just been found guilty of murder.
Up near the judge's bench, Osborne was also losing his composure. A bailiff gestured toward the door, time to go. Osborne threw himself into the bailiff's arms in a bear hug.
Cindy Hopkins remained upstairs until the jury had left the building and Hopkins had been escorted to the jail.
Unheard testimony
Earlier in the day, after the state rested its case, defense attorney Gary Jones had been expected to call Amy Williams as a witness.
Jones made a number of indirect allusions during the trial to the idea that someone else in the house may have killed Charlie and that Sam had identified the wrong man. The only other man in the house was Kimble Frazier.
It is a defense strategy to create reasonable doubt in the jury's mind by suggesting that someone else may have committed the crime.
Williams had tape-recorded a conversation with Osborne's friend, Kimble Frazier, who slept over at Cindy Hopkins' house the night Charlie died.
The conversation was about Osborne's arrest. Amy and Joey Williams, and Frazier, were looking at a newspaper story that included a photograph of Charlie.
Jones had alluded to that conversation during his cross-examination of Frazier:
Jones: Did you say, "They put that picture in there for the killed … they put that in there for me"?
Frazier: No, I don't remember saying that.
Assistant District Attorney Dan Angero had never received a copy of the cassette tape of that conversation. If Williams was going to testify, he wanted to hear it, all of it, even though Jones said the pertinent part of the conversation had not been recorded.
The judge sent Jones to get the tape, and Angero listened to it. All of this resulted in a recess of more than two hours. After that, Angero said he was ready to continue.
And then Jones rested his case without calling a witness.
Closing arguments
The prosecution, which spoke first during closing arguments, spent time talking about why Frazier couldn't have been Charlie's attacker. It was, apparently, a preemptive attack on what they thought was coming a "reasonable doubt" argument from the defense.
But, they were waiting for a shoe that never dropped.
Jones made only one passing remark about Frazier in his closing statement. Perhaps the idea was to make the prosecution argue for him. Maybe the strategy was to make them appear defensive. It's hard to say, and Jones makes it a practice not to talk to the media.
One more thing that should be said: Kimble Frazier got a rough ride this week during the trial of Joseph Osborne. He was never charged with a crime, but his name came up a lot in unflattering references.
Osborne's lawyer had to do what he did. The newspaper had to report it. And, it probably hurt Kimble Frazier's feelings.
It is an unfortunate truth that, in a murder trial, there is no shortage of victims.