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A La Crosse County jury on Thursday acquitted Mitrel Anderson of four different homicide charges in the 2013 fatal stabbing of DeMario Lee at a La Crosse gas station.

Anderson cried and his supporters celebrated the verdict with gasps of relief, while Lee’s family and friends sobbed and immediately left the courtroom.

“We knew all along Mitrel wasn’t responsible. The jury did the right thing today,” Anderson’s attorney Christopher Zachar said after 6½ hours of jury deliberations. “We couldn’t wish for a better Christmas present for the family.”

An excited crowd waited outside the La Crosse County Jail doors, where Anderson emerged a free man at 7:55 p.m. to waiting arms.

“Fresh air,” were his first words when he made it outside the courthouse.

For seven days, jurors in La Crosse County Circuit Court listened as prosecutors during the eight-day trial argued Anderson acted with the intent to kill when he stabbed Lee inside the Cass Street Kwik Trip restroom, while his attorneys fought to show the jury that he used deadly force to save his own life.

“You have a right to protect yourself,” defense attorney Elizabeth Wright told jurors in her closing argument.

Attorneys and witnesses agree on this much: that Anderson killed Lee. They offer conflicting arguments and testimony about everything else — how the fatal fight unfolded, what happened in that bathroom between 3:13 and 3:19 a.m. June 2 and the aftermath.

It took less than a second for Anderson to claim a life and change his, Deputy District Attorney Michelle Keller told jurors Thursday in her closing argument.

Anderson at 3:19 a.m. drew a knife from his pants pocket, swung his right arm and drove the blade 3½ inches through the skull of his former childhood friend.

Lee collapsed to the floor, dying in a pool of blood, outside the restroom. He didn’t want to kill, Anderson testified through tears, he just wanted to leave that restroom.

“Would you like your whole life to be decided in two-thirds of a second?” Wright asked jurors.

Once considered as close as brothers, Lee severed his friendship with Anderson and threatened to kill him in mid-April 2013 after Anderson complained to Lee’s mother that her son defaulted on a $2,500 loan.

Anderson, 27, of La Crosse, avoided Lee until early June 2, when they crossed paths in downtown La Crosse.

“When I catch you by yourself, I’m going to kill your (expletive),” Lee told him, Anderson testified.

Anderson was alone when he walked into the gas station restroom at 3:13 a.m., followed by Lee and two others. Anderson testified Lee started the fight with the first swing; prosecutors argued Anderson was the instigator.

“No matter what happened inside, DeMario Lee was done,” Keller told jurors. “He’s coming out.”

Lee, 24, is backing out of the restroom when Anderson swings the knife into his ear with a “determined look on his face,” Keller said. Anderson begins to pocket the knife before Lee’s body hits the floor and walks out of the restroom seconds later.

“He doesn’t even look at Mr. Lee,” Keller said. “He knows what he’s done. He knows he’s done his job.”

Anderson told the jury his fear of death rose when Lee ordered a bystander to get a gun. Anderson’s brother who fought his way into the restroom could not corroborate any statement about a weapon.

“The defendant brought a knife to a fist fight and now he’s coming up with a reason for that,” Keller said.

To believe the self-defense claim, the jury had to trust Anderson, a defendant who cannot be trusted because he lied about “every important detail” in his case, the prosecutor said.

“The question is, ‘Did he have to kill him?’ No. When you are getting roughed up in the bathroom, you have no justification for stabbing someone in the head,” the prosecutor said. “When you drive a knife halfway through someone’s head, you are practically certain they are going to die.”

Anderson walked calmly from the store after the stabbing, leaving his brother behind in the restroom. He fled with girlfriend Brittany Jones, who did not testify, to Madison, where he visited family, drank and attended a barbecue. He did not report himself to police.

“These are not the actions of a man forced to kill because he was afraid for his life,” Keller said.

Anderson’s life changed in the moment that Lee made him use deadly force to save his own life, Wright said.

“This case is about a split-second decision,” she said.

Anderson was outnumbered inside the restroom and cornered by Lee, who was almost twice his size, drunk, high and brazen enough to start a fight in a public place, Wright said.

“Anderson’s heart dropped when he saw DeMario Lee,” she said.

Lee punched Anderson in the mouth, pinned him to the ground and shoved his face into the floor while threatening to kill him, Wright said. Lee’s violent past and repeated threats to kill compounded Anderson’s fear for his life.

“His fear drove him to act,” Wright said.

Lee held Anderson against his will, and the clock started ticking for Anderson when he believed the bystander went to retrieve the firearm.

“It was a now or never moment for Mitrel,” Wright said.

Anderson did not start the fatal fight, his attorneys contended. He would not go in a restroom alone armed with only a knife and wait for Lee, who he believed carried guns.

Oliver Odulana, the only eyewitness to the entire fight and the state’s “star witness,” lied when he testified that Anderson started the fight with two punches to Lee’s mouth, Wright said. Autopsy results did not support his story.

“He lied because he played a role in attacking Anderson,” Wright said.

Anderson was heartsick after the homicide because he was not a “cold-blooded killer” but rather a “scared kid” who wasn’t thinking, Wright said.

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

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Police and courts reporter

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.

(35) comments

LooneyLeft

Its time to sag them pants, get the S.T.F.U. T-shirt back on, get some drugs, get high, and get back to business. It wont be long before La Crosse home owners will be putting bars on the doors and windows.

Condor Kid

Right after the tears of joy I'll swear as a lip reader that Mitrel said "how much imo get for dis"?Lol.

Condor Kid

Read the Condor!! He soars above and feeds on the dead!

Condor Kid

The cops did such a good job on this case only to have the prosecution blow it! Where did they get that Keller girl? Is that really the best we got?

john

So who is going to protest this?

nodifferecnce89

His girl has been out of jail. She got picked up for drinking and driving on probation. They both are very lucky...There was no justice here

LastOneStanding

Everyone is entitled to their opinion on this case... but look at it this way... when, in La Crosse Cty, does a young black male get charged with first degree intentional homicide, is offered a plea for 15 years an turns it down facing life, to take it to trial, in front of 12 white jurors, with a public defender an wins his freedom??? NEVER!! That alone speaks volumes... Mitrel was defending himself... read all articles, listen to all videos am look at all pics. y'all are missing a lot! let's be open minded. Put yourself in that situation!!! you NEVER know what you'd do or capable of doing until u feel like your life is at stake!

lookout

It's a very flawed law and it's used more often to get away with murder.

Sarah23

As someone who worked with domestic violence and victims who fought back to defend themselves (much less severe than murder); even the victims never got off scott-free. You defend yourself against a violent person and fight back, you get punished! He should have gotten some charge that he had to be responsible for!

maki

Since Anderson has been declared not quilty, his girlfriend Brittany Jones should be let out of prison immediately. Why should she be locked up for driving him to Madison when according to the jury he did nothing wrong? He walks away a free man and she's in prison. That's not right.

Monteee

The jury didn't say that he did nothing wrong. Your understanding of this case is very poor.

The prosecution did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant was guilty of 1st degree intentional homicide. That is what the jury ruled. That is what the verdict of "not guilty" means.

Sarah23

Too bad that didn't work out for the man accused of killing his parents in West Salem. Horne told the jurors to convict on circumstantial evidence. No concrete proof he did it. Too bad he didn't have this same jury pool.

Knight Rider

Lets put this into perspective. If Mitrel was a cop under the same self defense rules he would have been found not guilty. Mitrel is confronted by 2 our more individuals (one is a larger individual), struggle / fight erupts, anyone cop or not would be fearing for their life. Wisconsin's definition for for the use of deadly force against another is basically the fear of death and/or great bodily harm. Mitrel's mistake was that he ran and did not contact the cops. One can reasonably believe out fear he fled the kwik trip because DeMarios friends where still there. However, Mitrel should have contacted police, not making them look for him. Who knows, then this may have not gone to trial .

lookout

People use I was in fear for my life like sugar candy these days and many bad guys get away with murder around the country. The Jury needs to be much smarter these days by not falling for such scams and look harder at things. We'll be reading about this guy again unless he moves away for here.

HonestAbe

His "I don't care" demeanor should have been the prosecutions angle. If he really feared for his life, would he have gone about his nightly plans? no. You'd think a normal person would wait for police and rescue for assistance, he fled.

They'll lock him up next time ... like OJ, no, the glove didn't fit, but you're still in jail. :)

HonestAbe

Oh goody. Now he can go back to wearing his quaint "s.t.f.u." t-shirt.
That is, while he sues for being erroneously locked up for over a year.

Sarah23

The man that killed his parents in West Salem (allegedly) got life and there was no concrete proof he did it! It was all circumstantial. Yet, this man outright murdered someone and he walks! He's justified in killing another human being!

Breezy

I didnt know that guy in West Salem was trapped in the bathroom while receiving a beat down and then killed his parents...

Completely different scenarios and they most certainly cannot be compared. This really came down to about 5 seconds. And the jury decided that those 5 seconds that Anderson was justified to defend himself and was still in fear of his life after being beaten in the bathroom. Tough case for both sides and the defense apparently was able to get their point across and the jury agreed. Case closed

LaxLove

Where is the evidence that Anderson "received a beat down"? I'd like to see pictures of what he looked like after this if he so called was so called attacked first.

superman

Eric Koula should never had been convicted. More than likely, he did kill his parents, but there was no evidence directly linking him to the crime.

superman

Having been in a bathroom brawl before, I can say that your first reaction is to flee. But when you see several guys blocking your only way out, adreneline starts to pump, and fear is temporarily replaced by rage.

Your attackers, not being cornered themselves, do not have the benefit of this fight or flight reaction. And are unprepared against the extent, an individual is capable of when they fear for their life.

Therefore, I believe the initial attacker is the guilty party, because their actions are what caused the situation and the mental condition of the person who they cornered. And they deserve whatever blow back they received.

The jury made the right call.

justwatching123

within 6 months he will be in jail again, the jury missed on this one

Summer

I wonder what his history is, I think it is wrong not to know this. I say, be careful out there, you will hear of him again. When you can drive a knife into someones scull, just imagine the force. Hopefully he will leave La Crosse.

Sarah23

Check CCAP; it's not good.

lookout

The guy named Lee was walking backwards out of the bathroom which means he's trying to get away from Anderson when he got stabbed in the head. He was trying to get away from the guy that killed him. The jury got it wrong in my opinion.

katydid

The entire story is sad. Elizabeth Wright though is an awesome public defender. A lot of this case was the other people involved and their character. I bet it felt good to not sleep on a concrete slab last night. Kudos and congrats to the legal defense team.

peeg

i wonder what kind of "loan" he defaulted on? any guess'

Tdw

Thats how the system works. Unfortunately he was friends with dangerous people and those associations are part of the reason this happened. He should be thankful he's free and alive. And for those who will say he's guilty....shhhh! The jury heard and deliberated all the evidence and found him not guilty for a reason.

LeeJJH

I understand, and it is true that the jury heard all the evidence and I trust they made a sound decision. Still, based on the video of Mitrel just casually walking out of the bathroom, it is hard to believe that he was scared for his life. He didn't appear to be harmed at all. If he had just got the **** beaten out of him and just potentially killed someone, don't you think he would have run out of that bathroom? I just can't understand what evidence outside of what you see in that video is so much more believable. If those of us who don't agree with the verdict could see what let to the not guilty verdict, maybe that would help.

jharrimjr

I wonder if he will change his criminal lifestyle, given this break in life.

HonestAbe

lol no. he's just been emboldened. I'm sure he'll go back to what he knows, this will also offer him 'street cred.' and respect among his fellow thugs. I'm sure he just owns a "car loan" store .... or maybe a check cashing kiosk. lol

Condor Kid

Prosecution blew it. Mitrel probably should have walked a while back for lack of fair and speedy trial. What about all that time that Mitrel spent in jail? Who's going to pay for that? No one should have to wait so long for their day in court.

CJ

So you're a lawyer now too? Willing to bet just a matter of time before this one gets his name in a local paper here or somewhere else or that karma finds him.....

Condor Kid

Maybe some of you bleeding heart ultra libs living in wedgewood valley actually think that Trello is innocent & a good guy but the people living in the hood know differently. He's gotten away with murder and will never be welcome among us! He should get out of town while the getting is good. Spineless jurors let him walk. Maybe they were afraid Al Sharpton would come to town?

Condor Kid

I am just a person . What tha hell are you?

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