A jury found a Beloit man not guilty of murder Friday night after a weeklong trial.
Jacob M. Davenport, 38, was accused of shooting and killing his sometimes-crack cocaine supplier, James M. Tomten, on Feb. 9 in Tomten’s SUV in Beloit.
Prosecutors acknowledged Tomten, 28, was a drug dealer but also a dedicated husband and father to his daughter and to his wife’s other children.
Davenport also was a father who had lived with his fiancée for 20 years. She was all smiles after the verdict was read but declined comment.
Davenport lowered his head to the defense table as the verdict was read. He later dabbed his eyes.
Defense attorney Michael Murphy said Davenport told him he felt lightheaded and light-footed.
“And he’s looking forward to getting home to his wife and kids,” Murphy said, adding he hopes Davenport can get back to leading a productive life, “if not in Rock County, somewhere warm.”
Murphy said the case was about addiction, and he said he hoped Davenport, a smart guy and hard worker, could get clean and get his life back on track.
Murphy suggested Tomten had made enemies as a drug dealer and said the case is a cautionary tale for those who might want to get into the drug trade as Tomten did.
“I think, frankly, it was just a matter of time,” Murphy said when asked if people should be concerned about a murderer on the loose. “So I don’t think anybody else should be concerned that they’re going to be part of the target group unless they’re going to go down that same road.”
Davenport took the stand Friday to tell what he said happened the day of the murder. He said he was driving another cocaine dealer around Beloit in exchange for crack, and then he drove his son to Skatin’ Station in Beloit, all around the time of the murder.
When Assistant District Attorney Jerry Urbik asked Davenport if he expected the jury to believe this story, Davenport responded, “You’re damn right they should.”
Urbik needled Davenport on several occasions, implying he might be untruthful. At one point, Judge Karl Hanson told Urbik to cease the “side comments.”
Murphy attacked prosecution witnesses as being unreliable and often with long criminal records of their own.
A key to the case was a cellphone-mapping expert who testified it was highly unlikely Davenport was on the same side of the Rock River as Tomten at the time of the murder.
Cellphone records also indicated Davenport was on the phone with another person—the drug dealer he was driving around—at the time of the shooting.
Urbik suggested the call might have been placed inadvertently and said records couldn’t tell the difference between an accidental pocket dial and an actual conversation.
The jury requested phone records and cellphone mapping analyses as it deliberated. It returned a verdict in about 3 hours, 40 minutes.
The prosecution had no DNA or fingerprint evidence linking anyone other than Tomten to the murder scene and no murder weapon.
Davenport portrayed himself as a flooring installer who got hooked on crack cocaine and lost his house, friends and almost lost his family.
Davenport had been planning to move his family to Texas, where he had friends and where he hoped to get clean and restart his life with his family.
He took a bus to Texas two days after the murder. He admitted under questioning from Urbik that this might look suspicious, but he denied Urbik’s assertions that he killed Tomten.
Tomten was found dead after his Cadillac Escalade plowed into a snowbank on Vine Street on the city’s west side. Surveillance video showed a man getting out of the SUV and leaving on foot.
The man who left the scene was apparently the same man who had gotten into the Escalade Tomten was driving at the Save A Lot parking lot minutes before, as seen in the store’s surveillance video. Both videos showed the same clothing, including a red hooded sweatshirt and red athletic shoes. But the videos were not clear enough to identify anyone.
Davenport said he was wearing a black sweatshirt that day. The only video of him that day showed him wearing a white T-shirt in the February cold. Prosecutors suggested he took off the red sweatshirt because he wore it when he shot Tomten.
Assistant district attorneys Urbik and Alex Goulart pointed to Facebook Messenger messages Davenport sent in the days after the murder. In one message sent while on the bus, he said he had “dropped some weight” because he was worried about law enforcement meeting him when he got off the bus in San Antonio.
In another, he wrote: “I’m on my way south. But things went real bad before I left. Look into the Beloit News. Not gonna say much more than that. I love you.”
Davenport said he was upset that the video police released showed a suspect who looked like him.
Prosecutors said Davenport had two motives: He needed money to move his family to Texas and Tomten had “disrespected” his fiancée several weeks earlier.
But the two men had dealt with the issue the day it happened, shook hands and never spoke of it again, Murphy said, and Davenport had the money he needed from a tax return.
Murphy went on to suggest that somebody else might have had a motive to kill Tomten, describing an incident outside a bar the night before the murder. Two witnesses said Tomten told them he “got lucky” with an unnamed man’s girlfriend outside a bar, and that the boyfriend caught them in the act, the defense attorney said.