A 72-year-old inmate at Mt. Olive Correctional Complex was acquitted of attempted murder Friday in Randolph County Circuit Court.
However, the panel of 12 jurors charged with rendering a verdict in the case of Whorley Jack Ayers found him guilty of malicious assault and offense committed by an inmate - both felony charges - after approximately an hour and 20 minutes of deliberation.
The charges against Ayers, which were handed down in a November 2012 indictment, stem from an altercation that erupted between Ayers and another inmate, Philip J. Frye, at the Huttonsville Correctional Center on Feb. 6, 2012.
Ayers and Frye, who were both Huttonsville inmates at the time, became involved in an argument that escalated into a physical altercation during which Ayers stabbed Frye with an ink pen "just inches from his jugular vein," Assistant Randolph County Prosecuting Attorney Lori Gray told the jury.
"This is about an angry individual who approached an unsuspecting victim (Frye) and got in a conversation with him that eventually turned into an argument," Gray said. "The defense is going to tell you this is about self-defense, but this isn't about self-defense."
Several Huttonsville Correctional Center employees - including Denver Rosier, director of the corrections investigation division - testified that Ayers confronted Frye in the dayroom of a shared housing unit after learning that Frye had supposedly "ratted him out" to a corrections officer for threatening another inmate.
Rosier said he'd determined Ayers was the aggressor in the incident, emphasizing that there was "absolutely no evidence" that Ayers was acting in self-defense when he stabbed Frye with the pen.
In addition to HCC employees, Frye, who is now a free man, also detailed his version of what transpired on the day of the attack.
"He (Ayers) accused me of telling on him to the corrections officer, but I had just went up to get glass cleaner to spray on the floor," Frye testified. "He hit me in the stomach and the left side of the head. I tried to get away ... but he kind of pinned me up against the wall ... and stabbed me with a pen on the right side of the chin."
Frye was treated by the facility doctor for a scrape and puncture wound after the altercation. He had been buffing the floor of the dayroom at the time the incident occurred, and jurors had several opportunities to view a video of the altercation during Friday's trial.
Ayers, who elected to testify on his own behalf, delivered a markedly different version of what happened. He said he'd been angry at an inmate to whom he'd loaned $13 several months prior, so he approached the man and said if he didn't get the money back, "there would be consequences." One of Ayers' friends later told Ayers that Frye had witnessed the interaction - and had subsequently reported it to a corrections officer.
"I went in to talk to him (Frye) because I wanted to find out why he ratted me out," Ayers said. Ayers said he confronted Frye and turned to walk away, which is when Frye pushed him and threatened to kill him.
"He came at me," Ayers testified, "and in prison you had better be alert because if a man says he'll kill you, he will kill you."
Ayers said he hadn't intended to kill Frye when he approached him, pointing out that Frye was a much younger man and that he wouldn't try to take on someone like Frye unless he felt genuinely threatened because, "I can't move as fast as I used to."
"But when he said, 'I'll kill you,' I thought, 'if you're going to kill me, I'm going to kill you.' That's the way it goes in prison. I was in fear for my life."
During her cross-examination of Ayers, Gray questioned Ayers' claim of self-defense.
"Why would you approach someone you were fearful of?" she asked.
In his closing argument, Ayers' attorney, Christopher Cooper, highlighted earlier testimony given by Rosier in which he had admitted that a forensic laboratory analysis of the pen Ayers used to stab Frye indicated there was no blood on it.
"This pen, this instrument of death, there was not a drop of blood on it," Cooper said. "We can't even confirm it's the same pen he did it with. That's reasonable doubt checkmark number one."
Although they elected to acquit Ayers on the attempted murder charge, jury members sided with the prosecution on the question of whether Ayers had committed malicious assault and offense committed by an inmate.
The jury may have delivered its verdict, but following the trial's conclusion, Cooper hinted that his representation of Ayers wasn't quite over.
"The jurors deliberated and gave their verdict, and we will make our decision regarding this case, i.e. an appeal, at a future date," he said.
Ayers' sentencing hearing is set for 9 a.m. Aug. 21.