PRINCETON — The trial of a Mercer County man charged with murder that had been scheduled to start Friday has been moved to next month to avoid a three-day weekend gap in the trial that could possibly create problems exacerbated by social media.
Following a plea agreement last year, Jan McKinley Williams, 26, pleaded guilty to second- degree murder in the October 2018 shooting death of 29-year-old Jason Varney of Princeton in what was described as a “drug deal gone bad.”
However, Mercer County Circuit Court Judge Derek Swope rejected that plea after the victim’s family opposed the plea agreement.
A three-day trial was set for Jan. 10 and then Jan. 13 and 14. But at a hearing on Jan. 9, defense attorney Josh Austin asked for a trial with consecutive days with no gaps.
“We have some concerns,” Austin said. “The main concern is this is a very volatile case and high tempers. The three-day break (Saturday-Monday)” may create problems stoked by social media.
Austin asked that the trial be postponed to avoid that delay in proceedings.
Swope asked Austin if he feared “all hell is going to break loose.”
“Yes, we are concerned about that,” Austin said.
Swope said Williams was indicted a year ago and a plea agreement had been reached.
“But the victim’s family raised hell about how justice would not be served so the plea was rejected,” he said. “We’ll have a trial and let 12 people figure it out. I have to find four (consecutive days) in my docket to do this.”
Assistant Prosecutor Lauren Lynch said she had nine witnesses and requested three days, then Austin requested four days.
Swope set the new trial dates for Feb. 4 through Feb. 7.
Williams was charged in the Oct. 28, 2018 death of Varney, who was shot twice outside a Kee Street home in Princeton.
The shooting occurred after Williams received counterfeit money during a drug transaction with Varney, according to Assistant Prosecuting Attorney David Pfeifer, who represented the state at the plea hearing.
Varney had two counterfeit $100 bills were found in Varney’s possession and Williams had one, Detective Lt. Eric Pugh testified at a preliminary hearing. All three bills had the same serial numbers and what appeared to be “small but distinct” Chinese writing on their backs. Text messages between Williams and Varney contained “mostly drug-related messages.” Based on the messages, Williams had been “shorted” during a previous drug deal.
Varney had paid Williams “fake money for drugs,” Pfeifer said. Varney had been shot once in the back and once in his side.
Pfeifer said the state had looked at all evidence in the case and that it had some weaknesses regarding pre-meditation, which was why the plea reduced the charge from first-degree to second-degree murder. Williams did not go to Kee Street and plan to fire a weapon, but “went there for negotiation to rectify the situation,” Pfeifer said.
Williams remains incarcerated at Southern Regional Jail with no bond. — Contact Charles Boothe at cboothe@bdtonline. com