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Opening statements: Jury trial begins for 2014 Ardmore cold case homicide

Sierra Rains
srains@ardmoreite.com

Nearly six years have passed since Ella Loftis was found deceased on the front porch of her Ardmore residence.

For around four years the incident was considered a cold case. However, new information came to light in 2018 after the case was reassigned and the defendant charged with first degree murder in the case is currently standing trial to determine the outcome of those charges.

The defendant, 28-year-old Stephen Vineyard of Ada, is being represented by Oklahoma City attorney Richard Anderson. District Attorney Craig Ladd and Assistant District Attorney Aaron Taber are representing the state of Oklahoma.

On Monday, Feb. 3, the court spent the day selecting jurors and on Tuesday, Feb. 4 both sides gave their opening statements, detailing the evidence to be presented in the trial.

Ladd began by restating the circumstances of the case — that at around 3 a.m. on June 30, 2014, Ella Loftis, 59, was allegedly killed by multiple shotgun wounds. “This is a case about the brutal murder of Ella Loftis,” he said, adding that Loftis was hit by almost 30 projectiles.

Almost 24 hours earlier, Ladd said another shooting death had occurred in the parking lot of a nightclub. The victim wasn’t involved in a gang but got caught in the cross fire of gang-related violence, which was “on an uptick” at the time, he said.

Ladd said this escalated tensions between the Rolling 90’s gang members and the members of the Hoover Crips. The prior shooting death was allegedly a catalyst that indirectly led to the death of Loftis due to gang members seeking out revenge against Loftis’s grandson who had allegedly killed the victim.

Anderson agreed with these circumstances in his opening statement, however, the two disagreed on the way that Vineyard became involved.

Ladd stated that Vineyard had received a call from a gang member asking him to come help out in a hunt for Loftis’s grandson. However, Anderson said Vineyard was trying to purchase marijuana and inadvertently got dragged into the situation.

The events of that night led Vineyard into a car with three alleged gang members, Marquis Walters, Issac Lee and Juaren McGee and they headed to Loftis’s residence, where they all believed her grandson was staying, according to Ladd.

While both Ladd and Anderson agreed that Vineyard shot at the house, the main discrepancies in the trial are whether Vineyard was forced into pulling the trigger and whether he knew Loftis was on the porch at the time.

Anderson said Vineyard allegedly had a gun being held to the back of his head and was threatened by the three individuals.

The attorney’s opening statements were followed by the state’s first witness testimony from Carter County Sheriff’s Department Deputy Billy Mitchell.

Mitchell was on patrol the morning of the incident and responded to the initial call concerning a deceased woman at the residence, located off of A St. NE. Mitchell said Loftis was pronounced dead on scene and photos of the crime scene were presented to the jury.

Upon entering the court room, the state’s second witness, Lisa Gooden, started sobbing when she saw the photos. Gooden stated that Loftis was her boyfriend’s mother and that she had talked with Loftis just before her death.

Gooden said Loftis had come to her and her boyfriend to tell them that gang members had threatened to kill her grandson and to warn them not to open the door for him for fear that they would be harmed.

The third and final witness of the day was Matt Miller, one of the investigators from the Ardmore Police Department on the case in 2018. Miller said he and his partner, Landon Gary, decided to release information about the case to the press in the hope that someone would come forward with more information.

An individual that came forward told the investigators that Vineyard had allegedly confessed shortly after the incident four years ago. Miller and Gary then brought Vineyard to Ardmore for questioning.

The two and a half hour interview was recorded and presented to the jury. The investigators began by attempting to verify information the witness had told them, such as the type of car Vineyard was driving.

Miller said these facts were mostly consistent with the witness’s account. However, Vineyard initially told Miller and Gary that he was inside the vehicle at the time of the incident and that Lee had gotten out and he heard gunshots shortly after.

After more than an hour of Vineyard denying that he had pulled the trigger, Miller said he decided to use a common interviewing tactic in which the individual being questioned is given a slightly altered set of facts to minimize their guilt.

In this case, Miller suggested that Vineyard was forced into pulling the trigger. Soon after, in the video, Vineyard could be heard telling the investigators, “I had no choice, I literally had a revolver to my head.”

However, during the interview Vineyard maintained that he did not know anyone was on the front porch. Miller later told the court he did not feel like Vineyard was being truthful when he said he was forced into shooting the house.

During Miller’s testimony it was also revealed that investigators had attempted to make contact with Issac Lee and Marquis Walters, two of the former suspects in the case that had allegedly been in the vehicle with Vineyard and were allegedly affiliated with the Hoover Crips.

However, Miller said they were not able to reach Walters and Lee refused to make any comments without a lawyer present. No further investigation has been conducted into their involvement, Miller said.

Several other witnesses are set to testify over the next few days. If found guilty, Vineyard could face life imprisonment with or without parole.