As the jury shuffled into the courtroom Tuesday, Okemos resident Connor McCowan’s family clasped hands, preparing to hear the verdict. Across the aisle, the family of MSU student Andrew Singler waited in silence.
When the second-degree murder conviction was read aloud, McCowan’s sister’s gasping sobs echoed throughout the room.
For the McCowan family, the verdict was devastating. For those close to Singler, it brought justice.
After a more than two-week-long trial marked by emotional testimony, McCowan was found guilty of second-degree murder Tuesday afternoon in Ingham County Circuit Court for stabbing and killing Singler during a fight.
On Feb. 23, text messages between the two about Singler’s treatment of his girlfriend — McCowan’s sister, Shay McCowan — escalated into a confrontation in the hallway of Singler’s apartment building. Singler hit Connor McCowan in the head before Connor McCowan stabbed Singler multiple times, once fatally in the heart.
Connor McCowan could face anywhere from 15 years to life in prison when he is sentenced on Nov. 6. Ingham County Prosecutor Stuart Dunnings III said the length of his sentence largely depends on his prior record.
The jury reached a verdict midway through its second day of deliberations. By not convicting Connor McCowan of first degree murder, the jury indicated that they did not believe the murder was premeditated.
Connor McCowan did not visibly react as the verdict was read and showed little emotion, except to say “I love you” to his family as he was escorted from the courtroom.
Singler’s family immediately left the courtroom once the verdict was read, but Connor McCowan’s family stayed in their seats, huddling together and offering condolences.
Both families denied requests for interviews.
MSU alumnus Brandon Green, a close friend of Singler’s, said he and the Singler family felt justice had been served — but a verdict can only go so far.
“I’m glad that (Connor McCowan) was brought to justice and is going to have to pay for what he did,” Green said. “I can never get back my best friend, no matter what the sentence is, (but) it’s brought a little bit of closure.”
Green said he has gotten two tattoos in honor of his friend.
“He was the most gentle, nice, kind, happy-go-lucky person that you’ll ever meet,” Green said. “I’ll miss him a lot.”
At various points during the trial, Connor McCowan’s defense worked to convince the jury that his actions were committed in self-defense. He testified that he went to Singler’s residence the night of the murder to “talk things out” with Singler.
The prosecution used transcripts of the text messages between Singler, Connor McCowan and Shay McCowan to paint a different narrative, which could have made a difference in the case.
“I don’t think we can underestimate the importance of the text messages and the role they played in the minds of the jury,”
Dunnings said, referring to the profanity and threat-filled messages sent between the three prior to Singler’s death.
Even though Connor McCowan armed himself with a knife prior to going to Singler’s house, Cooley Law School professor Ron Bretz said his action likely didn’t warrant an intent to kill.
“While that kind of act is often used to show a premeditated intent to kill … here,
Singler apparently texted McCowan that he was going to ‘beat his ass,’” Bretz said in a statement. “It makes sense that McCowan armed himself solely for self-protection.”
At other times, defense attorney Chris Bergstrom tried a different approach. He argued that when Singler hit
Connor McCowan during their
confrontation, Connor McCowan sustained a head injury similar to various sports-related injuries he’d received in the past.
During his testimony last Thursday, Connor McCowan said he felt effects commonly associated with concussions after Singler punched him.
“I saw a bright white flash of light and immediately felt so
disoriented, like I was dropped into the situation,” he said.
When Bergstrom attempted to call an expert witness to
testify about concussions, Judge
Clinton Canady III did not allow it. Canady said that because Connor McCowan did not report the head injury, the court had no verification.