It took about a half-hour for a Jones County jury to find a young Laurel woman not guilty of a crime for stabbing a convicted felon who attacked her in July 2016.
Alicia Polk was found not guilty of aggravated assault after claiming self-defense in the stabbing of Latonya Sims.
The jury of five black women, three white women, three white men and one black man deliberated for a little more than 30 minutes before returning the verdict on Thursday morning. Testimony began on Wednesday afternoon in the case, which ended in mistrial in February.
“It’s a great relief,” Polk said, wiping tears after hugging family members and thanking public defender John Piazza.
The charge hanging over her head, then the delay caused by the mistrial all took a toll on her, she said.
“I didn’t get to walk in my graduation,” Polk said. “I didn’t get to have a senior year … they said I was a danger to the other kids. I’m just glad I can finally move on.”
Polk, now 20, was 17 when the then-31-year-old Sims “rolled up on her” in a car with Natasha Bogan and “Bugsy the Hitmaker.” Sims got out and struck her, then Polk “came up” and stabbed her with a metal object of some sort, Assistant District Attorney Dennis Bisnette said. The weapon was never identified or found.
Sims suffered serious injuries, including broken ribs, a punctured lung and a stroke that caused her to lose the use of one eye, the prosecutor said.
Polk said that she got hit, “fell down, found a piece of metal on the ground, then came up on (Sims),” Bisnette said in his closing argument. “That sounds like a Hollywood movie to me. I don’t know if I buy that.”
In an impassioned closing argument, Piazza said his client was “ambushed” that summer day on Lee Street. “Alicia Polk was forced to defend herself against a bigger, older bully, a predator.
“She’s been having to defend herself for the last 2-1/2 years, not only against that bully, but against someone with unlimited resources,” he added, referring to the DA’s office.
Polk made the decision to testify and “subjected herself to the cross examination of one of the most skilled prosecutors I’ve seen,” Piazza said. “I’m proud of her.”
He said that Sims’ attack was “premeditated,” and there was evidence to support that claim. He had copies of several threatening text messages that were sent back and forth between Sims and Bogan, one of which read, “I’m gonna beat that bitch’s ass,” he told the jury. They were referring to his client, Piazza said.
Those messages were put into evidence “and were provided by the state,” Bisnette told the jury.
The “evidence was consistent with the messages,” Piazza said of what happened. “It’s the clearest case of self-defense I’ve ever seen. The real perpetrator in this case is LaTonya Sims.”
Sims spent time in prison, smokes weed and likes to fight, Piazza said. “That’s the type person she is.”
Polk, who is 5 feet tall and about 100 pounds, said afterward that she was scared when Sims confronted her. They were fighting over a man, Bisnette said — one who Bogan’s sister and Polk’s sister had reportedly been in a relationship with.
“Hitting one time … does that warrant being stabbed in the chest?” Bisnette asked the jury. “LaTonya Sims made a mistake, and it almost cost her her life.”
Polk was wrong to leave the scene, then go to a friend’s house, then a gathering at a residence, Bisnette said.
“She never called the police,” he said. “That’s not consistent with self-defense.”
Piazza said that Polk is “smaller than my 12-year-old daughter” and the incident happened “in a split-second.” When the police arrived at the home she was at, she came out, waived her rights and talked to Investigator Earl Reed.
“What does a 17-year-old do after self-defense?” Piazza asked the jury. “Where’s the manual for that?”
Polk was “in danger,” he said. “That’s common sense. She knew Sims was an ex-con, bigger than her.”
Had the car “not been pulled over and (Sims) jumped out and hit (Polk), she wouldn’t have incurred any injuries,” Piazza said. “You know this is self-defense. This is more than a bad case. This is an injustice.”
After the verdict, Bisnette said that Polk’s “age and stature certainly influenced the jury.” He said it was a case in which someone almost died and the person who stabbed her didn’t come forward.
We can’t just ignore it,” he said, adding that the case had to go before jurors to let them decide. “Our job is justice, whether it’s a conviction or we let someone go.”
Judge Dal Williamson declared a mistrial in the case in February after the defense tried to get in information that was inadmissible, Bisnette said. But that ultimately benefitted the defense, he said, because of the incriminating messages that were sent between Bogan and Sims were used in evidence.