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Jury's decision in jogger stabbing could come today

LAWRENCEVILLE - A packed courtroom watched the closing moments Wednesday in the murder trial of Charles "Chaz" Coats, accused of stabbing a jogger to death in Yellow River Park last year.

At press time, Coats' defense attorney, Brian Steel, petitioned the 15-person jury to find Coats guilty on three indicted counts and a lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter. Evidence suggests Coats, 57, was being assaulted by a larger man, William Scott Carr, 50, and had no choice but to stab him on a park trail on Jan. 3 last year, Steel said.

The two men had several confrontations involving police at the park since 2004. Prosecutors maintain that Coats went too far in their final spat.

"You don't bring a knife to a fistfight," Assistant District Attorney David Keeton told the jury in closing arguments. "The response (made by Coats) is illegal and criminal."

Steel argued that if his client was trying to kill the man in cold blood, he would have stabbed him more than once.

"Mr. Coats was being attacked," Steel said. "He could not breathe by the hands of Mr. Carr."

Coats testified that he was attacked from behind but did not pull a knife, which he commonly carried, until Carr was on top of him.

Coats severed Carr's jugular vein and two major arteries when he stabbed him just under his left ear Jan. 3, a wound deep enough to notch Carr's spine, a forensic expert testified. A cross country coach in the area called 911, and Coats later called police to his home and showed them his bloody shirt, Steel said.

Keeton said the defendant doesn't meet the qualifications of the lesser charge and that he was the aggressor in his continued tiffs with Carr.

Friends of Coats said the former contractor in wartime Iraq was known for a hot temper but was never considered a troublemaker. His supporters have continually filled the courtroom since the trial began early last week.

Coats, a Stone Mountain resident, had not been previously arrested in Gwinnett County, jail records show. He has remained in the Gwinnett County Jail without bond since the day Carr was stabbed.

The jury is expected to return a verdict as early as today in Gwinnett Superior Court.