A La Crosse man faces life in prison after a jury Tuesday found he intentionally murdered his wife during an argument early this year.
Haron Joyner, 36, showed no reaction at the verdict to first-degree intentional homicide, reached in 25 minutes during a two-day trial in La Crosse County Circuit Court.
Prosecutors argued Joyner acted with the intent to kill late March 6 when he stabbed his 29-year-old wife, Jessica, in the kitchen of the family’s apartment at 1320 S. Fifth Ave. during an excessive act of domestic violence meant to control.
“Jessica Joyner died a horrible death,” District Attorney Tim Gruenke told jurors in his closing argument. “Her children were around her screaming and crying.”
Joyner’s attorney argued he acted recklessly but did not mean to kill his wife and asked the panel to consider a lesser charge of first-degree reckless homicide. Joyner did not testify, and his attorney presented no witnesses.
On cellphone video captured by Jessica in the moments before the stabbing, Joyner approached her in the kitchen of the family’s apartment while five children younger than 12 looked on.
“Ready?” he asked. “Ready?”
Then “f—- you, f—- you, f—- you,” Haron Joyner said as he swung a folding knife into her temple, arm and neck, the fatal wound that severed her jugular vein and carotid artery.
“He said, ‘Ready? Ready?’ That, ladies and gentlemen, is intent,” Gruenke told jurors. “As she was dying, I wonder if she was hoping someone would find that cellphone video. I’m struck by the fact that Jessica became a very important witness in her own case.”
Jessica escaped the family’s apartment after the stabbing to the unit across the hall, where tenant Gabriele Volten heard a thud at her front door and a woman screaming about 11:15 p.m. Jessica collapsed into the unit when Volten turned the deadbolt.
“She grabbed me around my body and she was yelling that he was trying to kill her and she was bleeding out,” Volten testified. “The children all came in after Jessica. They were in panic.”
Volten’s daughter Maria Pozo found Jessica on the floor and Joyner watching from the doorway.
“He looked at me and said he just couldn’t take it anymore,” Pozo testified. “He turned around and walked away.”
Joyner called 911 to turn himself in at 11:51 p.m. outside the La Crosse County Jail but left before police arrived.
“I don’t know why this happened … it happened so fast,” he told a dispatcher.
Police arrested Joyner early the next morning when they found him inside a car parked in the 3600 block of South 29th Court.
Joyner denied harming his wife, repeatedly telling investigators he left the apartment during an argument.
“I never put my hands on females,” he said. “Never.”
He didn’t remember calling 911 and couldn’t explain blood on his clothing.
“What did you do to her?” La Crosse police Lt. Matt Malott asked.
“I can’t tell you something that I don’t know,” he said.
At trial, Joyner’s attorney argued the killing was an unplanned attack done in anger, but without thought, awareness and intent.
“What Haron did was criminally reckless,” attorney Michael Covey said. “I’m not asking you to excuse his actions. I’m asking you to convict him of a homicide that fits the facts of this case.”
Joyner did not stop his wife from fleeing after the stabbing or prevent efforts to try to save her life, Covey told jurors.
He also failed to seek and render aid, threatened a child’s life and left to smoke pot with friends while his wife was dying in a stranger’s apartment surrounded by five children, Gruenke said.
“For Jessica’s sake, I’m asking you to find him guilty of first-degree intentional homicide and make him answer for the crime he committed,” Gruenke told jurors. “You can’t stab at someone’s head and say you’re not thinking.”