An Onslow County man accused of strangling his neighbor to death to steal oxycodone pills has been acquitted on all charges.
Nickey Yates, 22, of Jacksonville, was found not guilty Thursday afternoon of first-degree murder, kidnapping, breaking and entering, and robbery. According to District Attorney Ernie Lee, the verdict was likely reached due to a lack of physical evidence.
Yates was on trial for the death of his his 54-year-old neighbor, Linda Hulsmann. According to prosecutors, Yates strangled Hulsmann and stole seven oxycodone pills from her home on East Red Oak Court in November 2010. Yates was 19 years old at the time.
"We argued strongly in this case," Lee said. "I think we tried the very best case we could. I guess there's an argument that in terms of [the victim's] death, at least the way the family will think about the justice system, is that justice has not been done because obviously she was murdered, and no one's been held accountable for that."
Yates said he had been buying pills from Hulsmann before they allegedly had a dispute over the $300 he paid her for the drugs, according to investigators.
But juror Angie Cooper said there was no physical evidence placing Yates at the crime scene. She said the jury also had to consider several questionable testimonies from witnesses who were former drug addicts.
"The evidence just wasn't there from the DA's side," Cooper said. "Not to say that we all believed him to be 100 percent not guilty. But the evidence that we had to go by and the rules the judge told us to follow- there was not enough there to convict him of first-degree murder."
Cooper said she also feels sorry for the victim's family, wishing they can find peace.
"There isn't closure for Linda's family," Cooper said. "I wish there was. There's a lot of unanswered questions still, a lot of things that I think the DA could have done better to help us with the case."
During a previous hearing, Yates' father, Nickey Yates Sr., said he had not seen his son for a long time because Yates was behind bars for three years awaiting trial.
"It's somewhat reassuring to look in his eyes and know that he's still there," said the father. "But it'll be a lot better when he's outside this whole criminal justice system -the entire apparatus. I want my son home, and I want my family back in peace."
Also in a previous interview, NewsChannel 12 talked with one of Hulsmann's friends.
"She was a wife. She was a mother. She was someone's sister, someone's daughter- no different than anyone else's friend. I miss her," said Albert Henninger of Hulsman.