A Greenville teenager, who spent his 17th birthday in jail charged with murder, walked out of a Hunt County courtroom as a free man Friday.

Frank James Edwards Jr. was found not guilty by a jury in the 354th District Court of the shooting death of Joseph Willis. The panel deliberated for less than two hours before returning with the verdict shortly before noon Friday.

Both prosecutors and Edwards’ defense counsel said there was a lack of evidence tying Edwards to the murder in June of last year.

Defense attorney Peter Morgan issued a statement following the verdict, indicating he was pleased the jury returned the right decision.

“As a citizen accused, Frank was presumed innocent and the evidence was never produced to rebut that assumption,” Morgan said.

District Attorney F. Duncan Thomas said he felt sorry for Willis’ family at the outcome of the three-day trial.

“We presented the evidence that we had, and, obviously, the jury decided there was a reasonable doubt as to his guilt,” Thomas said. “There was no physical evidence and the jury did not believe the witnesses who testified that Mr. Edwards told them that he shot Mr. Willis.”

Edwards, 17, had pleaded not guilty. Edwards was 16 at the time the shooting occurred and had been certified to stand trial as an adult in connection with Willis’ death. He had remained in custody since his arrest shortly after the murder.

Willis, 18, was found inside of a Jeep in the 2900 block of Texas Street early on the morning of June 25, 2005. He had been shot once in the head and was transported to Parkland Hospital in Dallas, where he later was pronounced dead.

The bullet taken from Willis’ body, along with other evidence collected during the autopsy had been lost, and at least one other person was said by witnesses to have claimed to be the person who shot Willis.

Morgan said he offered his condolences to the Willis family, but believed justice had been done.

“I am very pleased the jury diligently considered the law and the facts and returned what I believe to be the only just and proper verdict in this case,” Morgan said. “Frank has several family members that have supported him in the past year while he was in adult jail. It is my hope and belief that he will now cherish his newly gained freedom and avoid situations where he can even be accused of a crime.”

Recommended for you