In Texas, a capital murder trial is underway in the death of 18-year-old Zoe Hastings, who was abducted then murdered while returning a Redbox film, according to prosecutors. The defendant, 36-year-old Antonio Cochran, will not face the death penalty if he’s found guilty because a Texas law prohibiting capital punishment when the defendant has an IQ less than 70.
Hastings was killed in October of 2015 and in court on Thursday, prosecutors said that witnesses saw Cochran arguing with Hastings before pushing her into a minivan, WFAA reports. Her body was found the following day, beside the deserted van. Initially, the Dallas County Distinct Attorney was going to seek the death penalty, but they later reversed that decision when they learned about Cochran’s intellectual disabilities.
In addition to the eyewitness statements, prosecutors say that they have evidence linking Cochran to the scene and that his DNA was found on the handle of a bloody knife. The first witness presented by the prosecution was Hastings’ mother, who said that she became a registered nurse after her daughter was killed in order to perform sexual assault exams, saying “I felt like those people need someone for them in a vulnerable time in their life.” Zoe’s mother also outlined the timeline of events on the night of her daughter’s murder, saying that they became worried when their oldest child did not return by 10 p.m. and called 911 to report her missing. Later that night, her father went to the police station to report her missing in person. Prosecutors say they have evidence showing that the Redbox film was returned at 4:42 p.m.
In response, the defense team offered a number of excuses, including pointing out that Cochran was a janitor at a movie theater and that part of his job was to pick up discarded items. They suggested that his DNA was found on the knife because he found it at the theater. One witness also helped the defense by saying that he saw “no sign that the man who entered Zoe Hastings’ van forcibly got into the vehicle [and that there was] no sign of violence,” according to WFAA.
Zoe’s body was reported by Kurt Arnin, who lives near the ditch where her corpse and her family’s minivan were recovered. On Thursday, he testified that a man ran up to him and “was very animated” and told him that he found a dead body. He then asked Arnin to call 911, saying that his phone was dead — that man has still not been identified.
Cochran was arrested a few weeks after Hastings’ death and is not charged in a sex crime in the case. Though prosecutors say that she was sexually assaulted, no coroner’s evidence has been presented in the courtroom, according to reports.