Jury hears final witness testimonies for fourth day of Ardmore first degree murder trial
Defense‘s witnesses testify
On Thursday, Feb. 6, a Carter County jury met for the fourth consecutive day in a first degree murder trial.
Prior to Feb. 6, the jury heard several hours of testimony from eight state witnesses detailing the alleged events that led up to the shooting death of 59-year-old Ella Loftis and what is alleged to have happened afterwards.
Loftis was found deceased on the front porch of her Ardmore residence, located off of A St. NE, at around 3 a.m. on June 30, 2014. The exact circumstances surrounding her death remained unclear for four years, until new information came to light in 2018 when the case was reassigned to two Ardmore Police Department investigators.
The defendant in the case, 28-year-old Stephen Vineyard, of Ada, is charged with first degree murder. Vineyard is being represented by Oklahoma City attorney Richard Anderson, with assistance from Oklahoma City attorney Beau Williams. District Attorney Craig Ladd and Assistant District Attorney Aaron Taber are representing the state of Oklahoma.
On Thursday, the defense called seven witnesses to the stand. The first to testify was Ella Loftis’s son, who confirmed that Loftis had come to his house prior to her death to warn him of threats made against his son, also referred to in previous articles as Loftis’s grandson.
The witness said his mother feared that two alleged gang members would harm him or his son and that she herself was also scared. By the end of his testimony, the witness became distressed and left the courtroom in tears.
The defense’s second witness was a distant relative of Loftis who also described some of the events and circumstances leading up to Loftis’s death. The witness stated that he was familiar with gangs in Ardmore and confirmed that tensions had been rising between the members of the Rolling 90’s and Hoover Crips around the time of the incident in 2014.
The witness said he had been staying at a house down the road from Loftis and heard word of an individual being killed in a parking lot shooting at a nightclub. According to Ladd’s opening statement on Tuesday, this incident is believed to have occurred 24 hours prior to Loftis’s death.
The witness stated that a few alleged gang members had come by looking for Loftis’s grandson afterwards and had a conversation with Loftis regarding a hunt for her grandson.
The witness was also questioned as to how initiation into a gang typically works. Typically, an individual has to gain the trust of the gang members over a long period of time, but on a rare occasion a drive-by shooting or a shooting could be used as initiation, he said.
Melanie Taylor, an employee with APD who maintains police records and 911 calls, told the jury that a call concerning five shots heard came in from one of Loftis’s neighbors around 3:28 a.m. on June 30, 2014, according to dispatch records.
The neighbor who made the report took the stand to describe what was heard and seen that night.
In the testimony, the witness identified themself as a “night owl,” saying they were awake and looking outside a window around 3 a.m. when they heard a series of loud noises that sounded like five gunshots.
At some point, the witness said they saw three individuals standing outside of Loftis’s residence, two of which appeared to be standing “extremely close” to each other. During the cross examination, the witness said they saw one of the individuals holding a shotgun, but did not observe a gun being held to any of their heads.
On Tuesday, a video interview with Vineyard was played for the jury. In the video, Vineyard tells APD investigators that he was allegedly forced into shooting at Loftis‘s residence while a gun was being held to the back of his head.
The witness said they saw no indication that any of the individuals were being forced into shooting at the residence and that they appeared to be working together.
On Wednesday, a witness who came forward to Ardmore police with additional information in 2018 told the jury that Vineyard had allegedly confessed following the 2014 incident. During the testimony, the witness stated that she and her friend had helped Vineyard hide the shotgun at a residence in Ada.
However, the defense called the Ada resident to the stand to dispute this claim. The witness stated that the only connection he had with Vineyard was that his daughter went to “skate church” with him.
Police reportedly contacted the witness about a shotgun that had allegedly been stashed in his shed. However, the witness said no shotgun was ever found on his property.
The last two witnesses testified to Vineyard’s character and recalled a few instances of behavior the defense suggested someone might exhibit if they were afraid of something.
Vineyard’s mother-in-law told the jury that she approved of the marriage between her daughter and Vineyard and would often go over to their house to clean. On a few occasions, she said she noticed that the dining room chairs were propped up against the doors as if to barricade them, but never asked why.
Vineyard’s wife confirmed this behavior, stating that he would prop the chairs up against every door in the house when they moved to Ada. However, she said her family had done similar things when she was a child after experiencing a break-in and she just thought it was an extra safety precaution.
Vineyard’s wife also told the jury that his demeanor is normally “very helpful and nice” and that he has never been physically abusive. The couple started seeing each other during the last part of 2014 and she said he had never confided in her about a shooting or murder.
The defense and the prosecution will deliver their closing statements to the jury Friday, Feb. 7 and the jury will have to come to a decision based on the evidence provided over the last week. If found guilty, Vineyard could face life imprisonment with or without parole.