- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 30, 2015

A jury has acquitted a man on murder charges in the 2011 slaying of a bystander during a daytime shooting in Camden days after deep police layoffs there.

Taurean Houston’s lawyer Richard Sparaco says the only witness to identify Houston as someone involved in the Jan. 20, 2011, killing of 20-year-old Anjanea Williams was a drug dealer.

In a verdict returned Tuesday afternoon, the jury was split on conspiracy to murder and weapons charges. Sparaco said those charges will be retried in January.

The slaying happened days after nearly half of Camden’s police force was laid off.

Sparaco said there was evidence at the trial that police did not initially investigate the case as a homicide because Williams was expected to survive. She died about eight hours after the shooting.

Camden has long had crime problems, but they deepened after the layoffs when the remaining officers stopped virtually all patrols because staffing was high enough only to respond to calls - and not even all of them. In 2012, there were a record 67 murders in the city of 77,000. Since then, the police department has been disbanded and patrols have been taken over by a new Camden County-run force that has more officers on the street and uses community policing techniques. The number of crimes - including murders - have declined sharply since then.

Police Chief Scott Thomson, who led the old force and the new one, has said that one of the most troubling developments after the layoffs was the spike in daytime shootings.

Sparaco said that prosecutors tried to show that the decreased police presence along Broadway, a thoroughfare known for drug-dealing and prostitution, could have contributed to the shooting, which happened around 2 p.m. Witnesses said there were three men in black masks; police said there were bullet casings from two guns and two shooters.

Williams, who had recently been laid off herself from the dietary department of a hospital, had cashed her unemployment check and was getting lunch at a deli when several shots were fired, one going into a nearby church and one into Williams’ abdomen then her ribcage.

Sparaco said the only witness who identified his client as a shooter was a man who was brought in by police for questioning that day.

The trial lasted nearly two weeks and jury selection went on for more than two days before the verdict was returned.

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