Judge drops murder charge against Cobb

From The Daily Union, March 31, 2000:

Daily Union Staff Writer

The trial judge dropped a premeditated murder charge against Artis Cobb when the prosecution rested its case Thursday after 6 1/2 days of testimony.

With the jury outside the courtroom, Salina public defender Mark Dinkel, one of two attorneys for Cobb, reminded Geary County District Judge Steven Hornbaker, "the court said in its pretrial order the evidence of first-degree murder was weak."

Dinkel moved for acquittal on all nine charges against Cobb, which allege alternative theories of three crimes, including the murder and rape of Kasey Blount and the murder of her 11-month-old daughter, Alannah.

Hornbaker said he would later consider dismissing a charge of rape of a person who is unconscious. He also said he would consider instructing jurors to consider a second-degree murder charge in Kasey Blount's death. He said he will make a decision before the jury retires to deliberate the case.

The remaining charges allege rape, second-degree murder of the infant or first-degree murder during the commission of a felony. Cobb could still face a life sentence if convicted.

Dinkel began the defense's case Thursday afternoon, calling to the witness stand Junction City resident LaTisha Garvin. Looking directly at attorneys and testifying in a dry voice without apparent emotion, Garvin said she became engaged to marry Cobb after he was returned from Florida in 1999 to face Geary County murder charges.

Garvin said she did not recall hearing of the Blount murders in 1994 but said Cobb recently told her "that he didn't do it." She said Cobb told her he created a scenario based on information detectives told him when he confessed to the crimes.

In earlier testimony, Garvin's sister LaKesha Green said Cobb visited the home where the two sisters lived with their mother in 1994 and told her he had seen something bad. Cobb told investigators during his videotaped July 26, 1999, statement to investigators that he had told LaTisha about his role in the murders.

When County Attorney Chris Biggs asked if she recalled Cobb visiting her mother's house in late 1994, she looked down and answered, "yes."

Other defense witnesses included Derrick Douglas, an Ellsworth Correctional Facility inmate who said he overheard in 1994 Yvette Nix implicate herself in Blount's death. Biggs asked questions that would imply Douglas approached investigators with information in an effort to get help with Kansas charges he was facing at the time.

Junction City resident Stephan Reese, who appeared in an orange Geary County Detention Center jump suit, told Dinkel he had been in Blount's 733 N. Webster St. apartment with Anthony Cassel around the time of the murders.

Police interrogated Cassel for several hours shortly after the bodies were discovered, and Cassel indicated he might have been in the apartment. Police later excluded Cassel as a suspect.

Under a threat of contempt charges, Douglas said Cassel was a "grasshopper," which he defined as a gang member who "went from set to set."

Kansas Bureau of Investigation Special Agent Ray Lundin then told the court Cassel was a member of the Gangster Disciples or Folks gangs in 1994.

Cobb told investigators in 1997 and 1999 he was forced to rape and murder Blount as part of a gang initiation or promotion to a more senior rank within a Fort Riley group called the "Pimps." Several witnesses have confirmed the group's existence and the role of an alcoholic beverage called "the blood" in the group's activities.

Eighth Street resident Diane Johnson said she lived near the crime scene when Cassel and Vernon Cobbs, who is not related to the defendant, stormed into her daughter's apartment and demanded that the daughter provide an alibi. She said Cassel and Cobbs had boasted of their gang membership while dating her daughter Anna.

Johnson's daughter, Cheryl Zinkin, also of Junction City, told the jury she, too, recalled the incident, perhaps on the night of the murder, when Cobbs demanded that her sister say he had been there all night.

Zinkin said her sister, a Topeka Correctional Facility inmate, would likely contradict her mother's testimony because of long-standing tensions between the mother and her daughter.

Defense testimony ended before lunch today and is set to resume Tuesday. Testimony is scheduled to continue until at least April 8.