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Jury finds James Calvert guilty of capital murder

Published: Oct. 1, 2015 at 2:48 PM CDT|Updated: Oct. 1, 2015 at 9:05 PM CDT
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SMITH COUNTY, TX (KLTV) - Less than an hour is all it took for a jury in Smith County to decide James Calvert was guilty of capital murder.

The jury in the case, composed of nine women and five men, found Calvert guilty of capital murder. It was a unanimous decision. The sentencing phase will begin Monday, with the possibility that Calvert could face the death penalty.

Calvert is accused of fatally shooting his ex-wife Jelena Sriraman before abducting their then 4-year-old son Lucas and fleeing to Louisiana, where he was eventually arrested. Calvert had been acting as his own legal defense until his self-representation was pulled Sept. 15.

The defense rested earlier on Thursday in the Smith County capital murder case. Defense attorneys for James Calvert had sought a lesser charge for the defendant prior to closing arguments. Judge Jack Skeen, Jr. denied a request for affirmative defense to kidnapping and a request to put felony murder in the jury's charge.

Both sides were given two hours to present closing arguments.

STATE'S ARGUMENT

Smith County District Attorney Matt Bingham opened arguments for the state by displaying a picture of the victim, Jelena Sriraman, for the jury to see.

Bingham told the jury Jelena's story has "become our story."

"We made it our mission to get justice for Jelena," Bingham said. "Somebody has to."

Bingham said the defendant, James Calvert, had his day on October 31, 2012 when he killed Sriraman.

"Today is Jelena's day for justice," he said.

Bingham spoke to the jury, who witnessed Calvert when he represented himself, and currently when he had attorneys defending him.

"Y'all saw how he acted in this courtroom?" Bingham asked the jury. "Can you imagine being married to him?"

The district attorney got choked up at times during his argument, saying the part that probably hurt Jelena the most was "seeing your child leave with the man who has taken your life."

"In 20 years... It's overwhelming... I've never had that kind of evidence," Bingham said.

The Calvert case, he said, is likely his last capital murder case as the district attorney in Smith County. He announced he will not be seeking another term in the office.

Prosecutors used words like 'cold-blooded'... 'brutal'... 'violent'... and 'cowardly' to describe Calvert.

Calvert sat quietly throughout the entire proceedings and had no reaction when the verdict was read.

First Assistant District Attorney April Sikes closed for the state in a very emotional, passionate argument for the jury.

"I have waited a very, very, very long time to stand here and speak on behalf of Jelena Sriraman and Lucas Calvert," Sikes said.

"He tried to silence her," Sikes said as she showed the jury a picture of Jelena and her two children. "That's why we're here!!"

Recovering from throat surgery, Sikes made her argument with the help of a microphone, something that is not common for the district attorney who is known for her vocal arguments.

"I'll tell you this -- voice or no voice -- I got a lot of fight left in me," she said.

Sikes, who faced off with the defendant several times in pre-trials in court, turned to Calvert in her argument and said, "Try and silence me!"

She got very emotional at times, even being handed a tissue by the court bailiff to wipe away tears.

"It is a pathetic, sorry excuse for a man who can shoot the mother of his children in the back," Sikes said.

Her passionate argument moved at least one of the jurors to tears. Sikes referenced the police interview where Calvert insulted law enforcement and judges in Smith County, calling them 'idiots.'

"James Calvert underestimated the 'idiots in Smith County,'" she said.

Sikes called it a 'rock-solid, no-doubt-about-it' conviction of capital murder.

THE DEFENSE

The defense had the chance to make a case before the jury and produce any evidence they had, but the lawyers who were once fired by Calvert decided not to present a case.

They were left with half of the trial and testimony being handled by the defendant and apologized to the jury.

"I want to tell you I am so, so, so sorry," Defense Attorney Jeff Haas said. "I wish it could've been different. It could've been. [It] should've been."

THE DELIBERATION

The jury of nine women and five men took less than an hour -- approximately 47 minutes -- to reach a verdict in the capital murder case. Three of the jurors have connection to public service. During arguments, it was mentioned a juror was a former fire chief, another worked at a police department and another worked as a state trooper.

At one point, the jury sent a note to the court asking to see the report in evidence from the counselor of Lucas Calvert, the child kidnapped by James Calvert. That report contained drawings by Lucas that reflected what he saw on Oct. 31, 2012.

In the picture, drawn by Lucas, it showed him on the couch, with James Calvert smiling with a gun and Jelena on the ground. On the drawing he spelled out, "pop" "pop" "pop."

Lucas was expected to testify in the trial when James Calvert was representing himself, but when that representation was revoked, the child was not called to testify.

The jury will now hear from the State and defense as it related to the fate of James Calvert. They can either decide to give him life in prison or send him to death row.

The punishment phase in the Calvert murder trial will begin on Monday morning.

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