SAVANNAH - Even though Carlos Huntley was found innocent of three murder counts, the 23-year-old did not get to walk out of the Chatham County Courthouse a free man. He was sent back to prison, where he is serving a five-year sentence for selling cocaine.
Mr. Huntley was acquitted in the 1998 deaths of Felicia Caldwell, 43, John Ambrose III, 41, and Dana Crosby, 31. The three were found dead on a bedroom floor of a Savannah house just after 11:30 a.m. Feb. 8, 1998.
It was almost three years before investigators made an arrest in the case.
"The longer a case is pending, it's increasingly difficult to prove," said Assistant District Attorney Melanie Higgins, who prosecuted the case.
The jury deliberated for about two hours before returning with its verdict.
It was the second trial in the case against Mr. Huntley. The first, in December, ended in a mistrial after jurors failed to reach a verdict after nine hours of deliberations.
Mr. Huntley's family declined to comment on the verdict, but Felicia Caldwell's sister, Kathy, was angered by the acquittal.
"I think it's very unjustified that my sister's life got taken, and he gets to walk," she said.
Both the prosecution and the defense repeated throughout the four-day trial that drugs were a major factor in the case. Ms. Caldwell defended her sister, saying she did not use drugs.
"The only problem she had was she had a big heart and she tried to help everybody."
Ms. Caldwell said she was not satisfied with the results of the trial and may hire an investigator to find out what happened to her sister.
The state's most important evidence included bullets found in a truck driven by Mr. Huntley that matched those used in the shootings.
But the jury didn't find enough for a conviction.
"The evidence wasn't there," said defense attorney Richard Darden. "What a job this jury did. It was a courageous verdict - especially when someone is charged with three murders."
From the beginning, the defense argued there was nothing that could place Mr. Huntley at the scene. Mr. Darden told the jury there was no DNA and no fingerprints. And a few of the witnesses for the prosecution had disappeared or died before the second trial started.