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WSAZ | Huntington, West Virginia | News

UPDATE: Searls Found Not Guilty in Huntington Murder; Victim's Family Reacts

By: WSAZ News Staff Email
By: WSAZ News Staff Email
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UPDATE 7/15/13 @ 11 p.m.
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Self defense -- it's an argument that worked in the George Zimmerman trial in Florida and the Aaron Searls trial in West Virginia.

Late Monday afternoon, Searls was found not guilty in the shooting death of John Keaton outside a bar in Huntington.

In both cases the defendant admitted firing a gun at an unarmed man, but said they had no choice. The family of John Keaton, the man Searls admits he shot and killed outside a bar along 3rd Avenue in January of 2012, was shocked to say the least. They also were firm in their belief the Zimmerman case had an impact on the jury.

"I absolutely think so, I do," said Larry Keaton, the victim's stepfather. "Why do I say that? Because they both claimed self defense."

Ellen Keaton, the victim's stepmother, said, "There would have been no winners here today either way. But we really lost because John didn't get justice."

In what turned out to be an example of foreshadowing, Cabell Circuit Judge Judge Paul Farrell asked jurors in the Aaron Searls murder trial to ignore what they -- and everyone else -- saw from a courtroom in Sanford, Fla. Zimmerman, a man who said he feared for his life and was under attack when he pulled out a gun and shot an unarmed teenager -- found not guilty.

Although the Searls case was obviously different, the jury in Huntington was also deciding the fate of someone who feared for his life and under attack when he pulled out a gun and shot an unarmed man.

Searls' attorney Abe Saad admits there are similarities in the two cases, though.

"I think when the jury receives instructions to focus on this case and this case alone, I do trust the jury to do exactly that. And I think that's what they did," Saad said.

Farrell ordered Searls to be placed on home confinement pending malicious wounding charges.



UPDATE 7/15/13 @ 4 p.m.
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- A jury has found Aaron Searls, 29, of Huntington not guilty in the shooting death of John Keaton Jr.

The jury returned the not guilty verdict just before 4 p.m. Monday after deliberating for more than six hours.

Prosecutors said Searls shot and killed of Keaton Jr., 45, of Catlettsburg, Ky., outside a Huntington bar in January 2012. They say Keaton was shot three times.

The defense argued that Searls was acting in self-defense while the prosecution said Searls came to the bar with a loaded gun and built up anger.

The jury had to decide between first-degree murder, second-degree murder, voluntary manslaughter or not guilty.

Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for the latest information.



UPDATE 7/15/13 @ 10:55 a.m.
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- A jury is now deliberating the fate of a Huntington man charged with murder.

The jury got the case about 9:15 Monday morning.

Prosecutors say Aaron Searls, 29, shot and killed of John Keaton Jr., 45, of Catlettsburg, Kentucky, in January 2012. They say Keaton was shot three times.

The shooting happened outside “The Lounge” bar in Huntington.

The defense has argued that Searls was acting in self defense while the prosecution says Searls came to the bar with a loaded gun and built up anger.

The jury will have to decide between first degree murder, second degree, voluntary manslaughter or not guilty.

Before the jury went into deliberations Judge Paul Farrell instructed the jury to focus only on the facts of this case and that you would have had to live under a rock to not be aware of a national case (Zimmerman).

“You are to base your decision solely on the evidence you have heard in this case. Do not be in any way influenced by any other matters that have happened. Keep all that in mind just the evidence you've heard last week in your deliberations," said Farrell.

Closing arguments took place Friday and the trial then recessed until Monday.

Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for the latest information.



UPDATE 7/12/13 @ 3:45 p.m.
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- After a week of testimony, a murder trial has wrapped up in Huntington and the case has been handed over to the jury.

Aaron Searls, 29, of Huntington, is charged with the shooting death of John Keaton Jr., 45, of Catlettsburg, Kentucky in January 2012.

After lengthy closing statements, the case against Aaron Searls was given to the jury about 3 Friday afternoon.

When the jury returned, they decided they wanted to wait until Monday to begin deliberations.

The jury will decide on first degree murder, second degree murder, involuntary manslaughter, or if this was a case of self defense.

Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for the latest on this story.



UPDATE 7/12/13 @ 11 a.m. .
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) – Closing statements are set to begin shortly after noon on Friday in a Huntington murder trial.

Aaron Searls, 29, of Huntington, is charged with the shooting death of John Keaton Jr., 45, of Catlettsburg, Kentucky in January 2012.

The murder happened outside "The Lounge" bar on 3rd Avenue in January 2012.

The Defense rested their case Friday morning. Searls did not the stand in his own defense. Prosecutors then called several expert witnesses to the stand.

The defense claims the shooting was self defense.

Closing statements are set to begin at 12:15 p.m.

Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for the latest information.



UPDATE 7/11/13 5 p.m.
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) – Lawyers for a man charged with murder have began presenting their side of the case.

Aaron Searls is charged with shooting and killing John Keaton Jr. in January 2012.

The murder happened outside "The Lounge" bar on 3rd Avenue in in Huntington.

The trial is taking place in Cabell County Circuit Court.

The first witness for the defense Thursday afternoon was a forensic scientist who testified that tests on a jacket worn by Searls the night of the murder indicated that that the left sleeve of the jacket was close to either the barrel or chamber of the gun when it was fired.

The defense claims the shooting was self defense.

No word yet if Searls will take the stand in his own defense.

Prosecutors wrapped up their case who showing jurors the videotaped interview Huntington Police Detectives conducted with Searls following the shooting.

Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for the latest information.



UPDATE 7/10/13 2 p.m.
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- The girlfriend of a man who was shot and killed outside a Huntington bar took the stand in the trial of the man accused of pulling the trigger.

Aaron Searls is charged with shooting and killing John Keaton Jr. in January 2012 outside of The Lounge in Huntington.

Searls' trial got underway Monday.

Testimony for the prosecution continued Wednesday.

Tears flowed down Mariah Covers face as she told the court what happened the night her boyfriend was shot to death.

Covers said when she and Keaton Jr. left the bar, Searls was there with a gun. "All I could remember was that he had a gun pointed at our heads and was going to shoot us," Covers testified.

She told the jury that the two men started to struggle when she heard three shots and both Searls and Keaton Jr. fell to the ground.

Covers said once they were both on the ground, Searls was on top of Keaton Jr. with the gun pointed to his temple. That's when she said she grabbed the gun and screamed for help.

The prosecution also called a doctor from the Medical Examiner's Office to the stand. The doctor testified that Keaton Jr. was shot three times in the torso.

During opening arguments, the defense said that Searls was not the aggressor, but the victim and was acting in self defense.

The prosecution is expected to wrap up its case by the end of the week.

No word if Searls will take the stand.

Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for the latest on this information.



UPDATE 7/9/13 @ 4:30 p.m.
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Testimony got underway Tuesday in a murder trial.

Aaron Searls is charged with shooting and killing John Keaton Jr. in January of last year.

It happened outside "The Lounge" bar on 3rd Avenue in Huntington.

Police say Keaton was shot three times at point blank range.

During opening arguments, the prosecutor called the case a perfect storm, starting with Searls getting into a fight with his brother and ending with another man dying.

The bartender who was working the night of the shooting took the stand, along with detectives on the case.

The victim's girlfriend is expected to testify.

The prosecution is expected to wrap up its case by the end of the week.



UPDATE 7/8/13 @ 12 p.m.
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) – A jury has been selected in the trial of a Huntington man charged with first degree murder.

Aaron Searls, 29, of Huntington, is charged with the shooting death of John Keaton Jr., 45, of Catlettsburg, Kentucky.

The shooting happened in January 2012 outside The Lounge bar in the 1500 block of 3rd Avenue.

According to Huntington Police, the two men were arguing about something small inside the bar, went outside, and that's when Searls allegedly shot Keaton three times at point blank range.

The trial is taking place in Cabell County Circuit Court.

During the questioning of 25 potential jurors it was discovered that one person knew Keaton from the bar. That person was dismissed and another juror was seated.

Testimony is expected to begin Tuesday morning.

Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for the latest information.



UPDATE 1/19/12 @ 2:15 p.m.
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Security was very tight in a Cabell County courtroom Thursday during a preliminary hearing a man charged with first degree murder.

Aaron Searls, 27, of Huntington, is being charged with the shooting death of John Keaton.

Family and friends of Keaton filled the courtroom wearing pins displaying his picture which raised some security concerns and prompted three deputies to remain present during the hearing.

During the hearing the Keaton's girlfriend, Maria Cover, testified that Searls was at The Lounge bar the night of the shooting. Cover testified that as she and Keaton left the bar that night, Searls was outside waiting for them and pulled a gun on them after a verbal confrontation.

"Aaron pulled a gun out, at that point John hit him and I heard a gun shot go off then I heard another one then I heard a third one and I saw them hit the ground," said Cover.

Public Defender Paul Jordan claimed there was no evidence that this is a first degree murder.

"I'm not going to stand here and say that a homicide did not occur but I'm not going to say a first degree murder occurred," said Jordan. "These people didn't know each other and I don't think this rises to the level of aggravated factors of first degree murder."

Judge Darrel Black found there is probable cause and sent the case to the grand jury.

Searls didn't have any comment to WSAZ.com as he left the courtroom.

Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for the latest information.



UPDATE 1/9/12 @ 11:40 p.m.
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- The investigating detective on a murder case that happened Monday morning in Huntington spoke exclusively with WSAZ.com.

Huntington Police Officer Ryan Bentley told WSAZ.com the murder suspect and murder victim didn't even know each other before the deadly shooting.

Bentley says the two men were arguing about something small inside the bar, went outside -- and that's when Aaron Searls allegedly shot John Keaton three times at point blank range.

Bentley says officers do not believe drugs were a motive for the fight.

Searls was black and blue in court Monday afternoon -- visibly beaten. Bentley told WSAZ.com that is because witnesses of the murder forced him to the ground and held him -- kicking a gun away from him -- until police arrived on scene.

Searls is currently in jail, without bond, until his preliminary hearing.



UPDATE 1/9/12 @ 5:45 p.m.
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- A murder suspect got a taste of vigilante justice in Huntington.

It happened early Monday morning just after the shooting death of a man outside a bar. WSAZ.com got exclusive video of a very battered suspect who told us he had been brutally assaulted. But no charges so far in that regard.

The bar manger says inside there were some angry some words exchanged. But police say outside -- a point blank killing -- and a quick arrest.

Here’s some dialogue between 27-year-old Aaron Searls and the magistrate:

“This is what I'm being charged with?" asked Searls.

"Yes. First-degree murder,“ replied the magistrate.

Searls looked stunned as he was arraigned on first-degree murder charges. He told the magistrate that he did not work, but his wife did to support their children.

Police say when they responded to the 3:18 a.m. 911 call in the parking lot outside a Huntington 3rd Avenue bar, 45-year-old John Keaton, of Catlettsburg, Ky., was dying from three point-blank gun shots to the torso.

Keaton later died at the hospital.

Police say bar patrons held Searls down and beat him until they arrived. One neighbor told WSAZ.com that he tried to make sure there was not another shooting when he saw a gun lying on the ground amongst some angry people.

“(it was) by the victim's head," neighbor Jonathan McCarthy said. "I walked over and kicked it out of the way -- to make sure she didn't touch it anymore.”

Police say after his arrest Searls, 27, claimed self defense. We’re told police are looking into a possible criminal history with Searls -- possibly involving weapons.

As Searls left the courthouse, WSAZ.com’s Randy Yohe asked the murder suspect the obvious questions.

“Can you tell me what happened?" Yohe asked.

"No comment, sir, Randy," said Searls.

"You looked surprised that you were charged with murder," Yohe said.

"That's because I did not murder anyone," Searls said.

"So, what happened out there?” Yohe asked.

Yohe also asked Searls how he was beaten so badly. He finally said he was maliciously assaulted.

It’s still sketchy on just what prompted the altercation that led to the shooting. Police say they have video from the bar's surveillance cameras that may shed light on motive.

WSAZ.com talked to Keaton’s family. They are in shock and in mourning.

They say he worked on a traveling used car sales team and leaves behind four children and two grandchildren.

Searls is now jailed without bail. He is awaiting a preliminary hearing.



UPDATE 1/9/2012 @ 10:50 a.m.
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- A Huntington man has been charged with murder in connection with a shooting outside a Huntington bar early Monday morning.

The shooting was reported about 3:15 a.m. in the parking lot of The Lounge. The bar is located in the 1500-block of 3rd Avenue.

Police say Larry John Keaton, Jr. 45, of Catlettsburg, Ky., died at a Huntington hospital following the shooting.

Detectives have charged Aaron Searls, 27, of Huntington, with one count of first degree murder. Searls was arraigned about 10:30 a.m. in Cabell County Magistrate Court. Bail was denied.

Searls was visibly shaken when the magistrate said he was charged with first degree murder.

Searls had a number of bruises and cuts on his face when he appeared in court. He told WSAZ.com that he had been maliciously assaulted.

Police say the shooting happened after the two men got into an altercation in the parking lot of the bar. No word on what caused that altercation.

Detective Rob Stinnett says both men were in the bar before the shooting happened. Stinnett says detectives are reviewing surveillance video from the bar. He says Keaton was shot three times.

Police say following the shooting, bar patrons detained Searls until officers arrived.

The investigation into the murder continues. Anyone with information is asked to call police.

Ellen Keaton says her stepson worked as a traveling independent used cars salesman. He leaves behind four children and two grandchildren.

Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for updated information.



UPDATE 1/9/2012 @ 7:30 a.m.
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Huntington Police confirm one man is dead following a shooting in the 1500-block of 3rd Avenue in Huntington.

The shooting was reported about 3:20 a.m. Monday morning.

Chief Skip Holbrook tells WSAZ.com that detectives are currently questioning a person of interest.

Holbrook says the victim is in his mid to late 40’s and was pronounced dead at a local hospital. The Chief says the man was found shot in the parking lot of a local club and that some type of disturbance led up to the shooting.

Police have not released a motive, or the name of the victim.

A witness, Jonathan McCarthy tells WSAZ.com that he heard people scream after hearing two or three loud bangs so he called 911. He then left his nearby apartment and went into the parking lot where he saw two people lying on the ground. McCarthy says one of those people was the victim, and the other person was the shooter according to other witnesses he spoke to.

He then saw a gun near the victim’s head and kicked it away.

Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for updated information.



UPDATE 1/9/2012 @ 5:30 a.m.
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Huntington police confirm one man is dead following a shooting in the parking lot of the Lounge. That's in the 1500-block of 3rd Avenue in Huntington.

Police at the scene tell WSAZ.com they do have a person of interest.

They do not know what the motive is at this time.



UPDATE 1/9/2012 @ 4 a.m.
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Huntington police are questioning people at the scene of a shooting near downtown Huntington.

Cabell County 911 dispatchers tell WSAZ.com one person has been transported to the hospital after being shot in the 1500-block of 3rd Avenue.

There is no word on that person's condition.

We have a crew at the scene gathering information.



ORIGINAL STORY 1/9/2012 @ 3:30 a.m.
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- At least one person has been hurt in a shooting along 3rd Avenue in Huntington.

Cabell County 911 dispatchers tell WSAZ.com there is at least one victim.

It happened about 3:20 a.m. Monday in the 1500-block of 3rd Avenue.

We have a crew on the scene.

Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for the latest information.


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