During the three-day trial, jurors heard testimony that Tommy Lee “Red” Engram died shortly after he was stabbed in the neck by Jesse Banks in May 2017. An autopsy would reveal that the stab wound severed his jugular vein, causing him to bleed to death.
BARTOW — A Circuit Court jury convicted a 69-year-old Lakeland man of second-degree murder Thursday for the 2017 stabbing death of his longtime friend.
The six jurors deliberated about three hours before finding Jesse Banks, of 303 W. Bella Vista St., guilty as charged. Banks now faces up to life imprisonment when Circuit Judge Donald Jacobsen imposes sentence at a date to be set later this month.
During the three-day trial, jurors heard testimony that Tommy Lee “Red” Engram, 63, died shortly after he was stabbed in the neck in the 400 block of West 7th Street in Lakeland. An autopsy would reveal that the stab wound severed his jugular vein, causing him to bleed to death.
The two men had known each other for nearly four decades and frequently had argued, but it never had become physical until the night of May 4, 2017, according to Lakeland police reports.
During the trial, Kandace Harper testified that she had witnessed the stabbing, and did not see Engram with a knife. She said Engram had turned to walk away when Banks called him a derogatory name. Engram turned back, his hands to his side, and Banks stabbed him, she said.
Lawyers for Banks had sought to have the charges dismissed last year under the state's Stand-Your-Ground law, but Circuit Judge Wayne Durden ruled that the prosecutors had proven that Banks wasn't defending himself when the stabbing occurred. That ruling was upheld in December by the Lakeland-based Second District Court of Appeal.
During closing arguments Thursday, Assistant State Attorney Michael Nutter challenged the self-defense argument.
“We know this was not an accident,” he told jurors. “(Banks) was angry with Tommy Lee Engram, and the state will submit that his anger had been building throughout the day. Around 9 p.m., it had reached its boiling point. Tommy had accused (Banks) of theft, and that made (Banks) angry.
“Tommy Lee persisted, despite (Banks') statements and protestations that he's not stealing.”
Nutter said Banks had grown tired of being pestered.
“So he decided to take matters into his own hands,” he said, “and silenced Tommy Lee Engram forever.”
Lakeland defense lawyer Megan Lazenby challenged the state's position that Banks was carrying two knives the night of the stabbing. Lakeland police had reported finding two knives at the scene — a bloody knife near the victim and another near the defendant when he was taken into custody some distance away from the stabbing scene.
“Do you really think that a 67-year-old man is going to be like a Ninja, carrying two knives in his pockets?” she asked. “There was never any testimony that Jesse Banks was carrying two knives at any point in time.”
Banks has been held in the Polk County Jail without bail since his arrest May 5, 2017.
Suzie Schottelkotte can be reached at email@example.com or 863-533-9070. Follow her on Twitter @southpolkscene.