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Deliberations begin in militia murder trial

HILLSDALE - A judge here sent jurors home last night after they deliberated for nearly eight hours without reaching a verdict in the murder trial of a self-proclaimed militia member.

Visiting Judge Allen Garbrecht asked jurors to resume deliberations at Hillsdale County Circuit Court Monday morning.

The jury of six men and six women listened to three days of testimony this week in the trial of Paul Darland, 29, who's charged with open murder, conspiracy to commit murder, and felony firearm possession. He's accused in the Oct. 7, 1994, shooting and burial of William Gleason, 25, a fellow militia member and bodyguard for nationally known militia leader Mark Koernke. If convicted, he faces life in prison.

Authorities said Mr. Darland went with Mr. Gleason and two other militia members to a southern Hillsdale County site at which Mr. Darland shot Mr. Gleason and helped bury him in a shallow grave. Militia members testified that he was killed because he was believed to be an informant to Mr. Koerkne.

During closing arguments yesterday, defense attorney John Lovinger told jurors his client was actively sought by police because of his assumed, high-ranking militia position.

“The police had a perception about Mr. Darland that wasn't true. But they were pretty convinced of it,” Mr. Lovinger said. “They're all locked into: `Paul Darland's evil. Paul Darland is second in command to Mark Koernke - let's take him down.'”

He said the state lacks physical evidence linking his client to the crime.

Mr. Darland was never caught with the 45-caliber murder weapon, nor did he even own it, the attorney said. He said no fingerprints, blood, or even a shell casing was found at the burial site to prove the shooting took place there - or that Mr. Darland was connected.

James Darland, Paul's father, testified this week that his son was with him until late afternoon the day Mr. Gleason was killed.

Mr. Lovinger said the only direct tie between Mr. Darland and the crime was through witness testimony, which he said was unreliable. Fellow militia members have lied in the past, he said, and they received lighter sentences in exchange for their testimonies.

But county Prosecutor Neal Brady told jurors Mr. Lovinger raised insignificant examples of conflicting witness testimony in trying to counter the state's case.

“You may understand the plan of the defense is to take small, unrelated pieces of evidence that seemingly contradict ... and say that because of that contradiction, they're lying,” he said. “It's a speck of nothingness against a mountain of evidence.”

When questioned at first about Mr. Gleason's disappearance, Mr. Brady said militia members told authorities the man left without explanation. Mr. Brady likened that story to the groups' “infantry version of what happened.”

“They couldn't say the truth without implicating themselves. They were there. They could have been charged, so they had to go with the theory that was contrived,” the prosecutor said. He said the state's three key witnesses testified this week Darland murdered Mr. Gleason, something he later boasted about.

“This cold-blooded killer not only did away with Mr. Gleason, but he joked about it - he bragged about it,” the prosecutor said.

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