A jury wrestled long and hard with whether Anthony Utterback acted in self-defense the night he trailed his wife and stabbed the man who had been having an affair with her, a juror said.
The jury of six men and six women initially voted 10-2 to convict Utterback of manslaughter in the slaying of Ryan P. O'Donnell in O'Donnell's front yard.
But in nine hours of deliberations, the two holdouts slowly persuaded their fellow jurors that the state hadn't proven that Utterback had done anything but act in self-defense, said the juror, a 61-year-old retired Omahan.
As the courthouse closed Friday, the jurors acquitted Utterback of all charges in the Feb. 14 stabbing near 40th and Y Streets.
The acquittal left Utterback a free man — and his family and attorneys in tears. “We're very happy,” said Assistant Public Defender Jeanine Tlustos who, along with Brenda Leuck and Cindy Tate, represented Utterback.
The acquittal left open the possibility that Utterback could get back with the woman at the center of the love triangle — Ashley Killian.
Utterback, 24, and Killian, 23, remain married, despite Killian exhaustively testifying to how she repeatedly cheated on Utterback with O'Donnell, before and after their wedding day.
Even after pleas from her husband, Killian continued the affair right up to the deadly encounter. That Valentine's night, she exchanged gifts with her husband only to then go over to O'Donnell's house.
Utterback confronted Killian and O'Donnell there.
In a 30-second confrontation, the two exchanged blows -- though it wasn't clear who struck first. O'Donnell hit Utterback in the leg with a crow bar. Utterback stabbed O'Donnell once — striking him in the heart.
Utterback then walked away, telling Killian: “You might want to get him to the hospital.”
After the late Friday acquittal, Killian wrote on her Facebook wall: “NOT GUILTY!!!!!!! NOT GUILTY!!!! Anthony Utterback is a free man!!!!!!!!!!! Praise the lord!!!!”
Killian posted those comments just above pictures of her and her new boyfriend.
In tears outside court, Killian's mother, Tami Freer, said she was relieved that Utterback was acquitted.
“She's struggling with what happened,” Freer said of Killian. “She's obviously made some mistakes. . .And we're all very sympathetic to the loss of Ryan O'Donnell.”
O'Donnell's family -- including his parents and siblings — rushed out of the courtroom in tears.
O'Donnell, 24, leaves behind a young daughter.
Asked if Killian and Utterback will remain married -- despite Killian's posts about her new boyfriend — Freer said: “I hope so.”
The juror did not share that sentiment.
In an extensive interview, the juror said he and his fellow jurors were at odds over several points in the case. But there was one major issue they agreed on: their disdain for Killian's actions.
“Put it this way — I hope (Utterback) moves on with his life,” the juror said. “He's obviously in love with her. Hopefully he realizes he doesn't need that kind of drama.”
The jury's deliberations shifted dramatically from Friday morning to Friday evening.
The 61-year-old juror gave this account:
After getting the case at 3:30 p.m. Thursday, the jury took their first vote Friday morning: 10-2 to convict Utterback of involuntary manslaughter, the unintentional killing of another during the commission of an unlawful act. The juror said no jurors advocated that Utterback be convicted of second-degree murder, as prosecutors wanted.
Prosecutors had pointed out that Utterback stabbed O'Donnell just below the left nipple — and his knife plunged an inch-deep into O'Donnell's heart.
“There was no way he could have planned to hit him in the heart — unless he was a doctor,” the juror said.
Still, the juror said he and others weren't convinced that Utterback acted in self-defense. They noted that Utterback had beaten up O'Donnell in December as O'Donnell slept next to a naked Killian.
He also noted that Utterback was on Dougherty's property — and had every opportunity to leave. The juror said he rejected the defense's contention that Utterback was afraid that O'Donnell would kill him with the crow bar.
The juror said he also was bothered by Utterback's first comment to his wife as he walked away from O'Donnell: “You might want to get him to the hospital.”
But in the end, the jurors were hung up on one critical question: Who struck first?
No juror knew for sure. Killian was standing nearby, but she said she saw only an exchange of blows.
“Did O'Donnell swing the crow bar first or did Utterback stab him first? No one could say,” the juror said. “The state just didn't prove its case.”
That was a tough realization for jurors.
As others peeled off throughout the day, he and two young women held out for manslaughter. But shortly after 4 p.m., the three agreed: there wasn't proof beyond a reasonable doubt.
“I felt (Utterback) should have never gone to the house, should have never gotten out of his car,” the juror said. “But that didn't answer the question of who swung first.
“I have a lot of pride. But your pride gets whittled down -- and doubt enters in.”
The jury had no doubt about their feelings about Killian's actions, the juror said.
In detailed testimony, Killian openly acknowledged that she would pawn off the couple's toddler son on relatives while she cheated on her husband. Under defense questioning, she admitted that she had stoked O'Donnell's anger at Utterback by falsely claiming that Utterback had laid hands on her.
And in the immediate aftermath of her boyfriend's killing at her husband's hands, she acknowledged she had two questions for police:
1. When would she be able to take her prescription medications -- two mood stabilizers and an antidepressant?
2. Would her interrogation end in time for her to make her nursing classes the next day? She told police she feared she would get kicked out of school.
“Nobody could understand her,” the juror said. “It was just so far from normal that you can't even comprehend it.”
The juror said the case will linger with him and his fellow jurors — several of whom were crying as they filed out of the courthouse. “It's just a bad deal all around — especially for the victim's family,” he said.
Stepping off of the courthouse grounds and onto Farnam Street, he shook his head and sighed.
An earlier version of this story had an incorrect definition of involuntary manslaughter.