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Man acquitted of murdering his best friend

WEST PALM BEACH — He admitted to helping conceal the dead body of his best friend.

But Tyrone Booker, 27, of Lake Park, insisted he was not the one who shot Joshua Francis, did not love the woman both he and Francis had sex with together enough to kill for her, and was not guilty of first-degree murder.

Late Tuesday, jurors agreed.

After an afternoon of deliberation, following a weeks-long trial, jurors acquitted Booker of first-degree murder and shooting into a vehicle.

He cried at the news.

So did Francis' parents, who earlier in the day said they hoped for some measure of justice. Comforted by prosecutors, they left the courtroom looking shell-shocked and declined to comment.

Assistant Public Defender Elizabeth Ramsey, who has won four murder acquittals in a row, said she believes Francis died in a December 2008 drug deal in Dunbar Village, as Booker himself testified.

"I don't believe Tyrone did this, but that is from a unique defense attorney perspective," Ramsey said.

No forensic evidence linked Booker to a gun or firing a weapon.

The case could have been a Pulp Fiction sequel, with threesomes, drugs and startling twists, including the girlfriend of both men, Simone Wiggins, reporting Francis missing to police when both she and Booker knew he was dead.

Assistant State Attorneys Aleathea McRoberts and Terri Skiles attempted to pick apart Booker's story.

McRoberts sounded incredulous as she questioned Booker's story that he returned to the car after a drug deal to find Francis already shot in the driver's seat. Booker said he then operated the car, with deep bucket seats and a high center console, by leaning over 6-foot, 240-pound Francis and driving the car home.

"A contortionist couldn't do it. Houdini couldn't do it," McRoberts told jurors, insisting Booker was telling lies.

She also asked how Booker could have known his friend was shot in the head when the medical examiner couldn't determine that before shaving Francis' head.

"Puh-lase," McRoberts repeatedly said.

What could have tipped the scales was a jury instruction assistant public defenders Ramsey and Jennifer Marshall asked for and that Circuit Judge John Hoy granted over the prosecutors' objections.

Jurors were given an "accomplice" instruction that advised them to use great caution when relying on the testimony of an accomplice - in this case, Wiggins.

McRoberts strenuously objected saying there was no evidence that Wiggins was an accomplice.

Booker, who testified in his own defense, made extraordinary admissions of helping conceal Francis' body and helping Francis' mother distribute missing person fliers.

McRoberts asked Booker on cross examination if he stood silently by "knowing [Francis' mother] was walking within feet of where her dead, rotting son" was lying.

"Yes ma'am," Booker answered.

"I just didn't want to get in trouble. I didn't say anything," he added.

Ramsey said after the verdict that prosecutors acted too quickly in bringing the case to trial. They should have taken more time, developed more evidence or considered dropping it, she said.

"I do feel tremendous empathy that they lost their son," Ramsey said of Francis' parents. "And who knows if anyone will ever be convicted of that. But convicting the wrong person only compounds things."

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