The Mitrel Anderson trial was a difficult case because it involved a loss of life and another man fighting for his, one juror said.

Jurors deliberated about 6½ hours Thursday in La Crosse County Circuit Court before clearing Anderson in the June 2, 2013, stabbing death of DeMario Lee at the Cass Street Kwik Trip.

Prosecutors argued Anderson acted with the intent to kill, but the jury found that Anderson used deadly force to save his own life.

“He admitted to killing, but when you are basically trapped and you fear for your life, you go to the extreme,” said one juror, who asked not to be identified. “It’s a totally sad case. No one wins.”

Jurors were unanimous early in their deliberations to acquit Anderson of first and second-degree intentional homicide and also considered first and second-degree reckless homicide charges before delivering their not guilty verdict, the juror said.

Those two words — “not guilty” — sparked immediate reaction from the packed courtroom: gasps of relief from Anderson’s supporters and an outburst of emotion from Lee’s family and friends.

“Mitrel waited 18 months to tell the jury what happened on June 2, 2013. We knew from the moment that we met Mitrel, that he was a likable, kind and extremely smart man,” said defense attorney, Christopher Zachar. “We were always confident that a jury would one day see the truth and send him home to his family.”

Anderson walked out of the La Crosse County Jail on Thursday night after 562 days.

The eight-day trial was hard-fought and emotional for everyone involved, said Zachar, who thanked the jury for analyzing the evidence and delivering a just verdict.

“Everyone involved ensured that Mitrel received a fair trial,” he said.

Anderson, 27, of La Crosse stabbed Lee in the ear at 3:19 a.m. after a confrontation between the former childhood friends inside the restroom. Anderson testified that Lee ambushed, beat and threatened to kill him before Anderson drew his knife and swung at Lee’s head.

“I didn’t want to kill him. I just wanted to get out of that bathroom,” Anderson testified. “I didn’t want to die.”

Prosecutors contend Lee, 24, of Illinois was stabbed as he was leaving the restroom and that Anderson wasn’t justified in using deadly force.

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Anne Jungen covers law enforcement and the criminal justice system in La Crosse County. She joined the Tribune reporting staff in December 2005. You can contact her directly at ajungen@lacrossetribune.com or 608-791-8224.

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