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Vega retrial set for March

Published 10:32 am Friday, July 18, 2014

 A Warren County teen accused of murder in the shooting death of her stepmother will go back to trial in March.

Tyla Vega, 17, will stand trial again for murder on March 3, 2015, before Circuit Judge Isadore Patrick, District Attorney Ricky Smith announced this week.

The new trial will come almost a year to the date after jurors failed to reach a unanimous verdict against the teen after more than eight hours of deliberation March 8 and nearly four years after she shot her stepmother, 32-year-old Michelle Vega, in the face with a high-powered rifle.

Jurors in the first trial were given four options to consider. Vega could have be found guilty or not guilty of murder by deliberate design, depraved heart murder, heat of passion manslaughter, or manslaughter by culpable negligence.

They voted 10-2, but did not explain the nature of the vote in court. Prosecutors later said 10 jurors voted guilty for murder and two voted guilty for manslaughter.

The decision the jury hinged on was a complex question shrouded with racial overtones that is likely to rear its head again at the next trial.

Did her father and stepmother physically and emotionally abuse Tyla Vega because of her race, and if so was that abuse severe enough to justify shooting Michelle Vega in the face with a high-powered hunting rifle?

Tyla Vega was 14 when she shot Michelle Vega on May 2, 2011, and a defense expert testified that the teen had long suffered from post traumatic stress disorder.

During her murder trial, Tyla Vega said she shot Michelle Vega in self-defense. Jurors also heard testimony that Michelle Vega was attempting to make a phone call when she was shot. Other testimony indicated she was likely calling Warren County Youth Court who had issued a pick-up order for the teen that same day.

Defense attorney Marshall Sanders contended throughout the weeklong trial that Tyla Vega was beaten and neglected because of her race.

Her biological mother is black. Her father, Jason Vega, is white, as was Michelle Vega. Neither Tyla Vega’s biological mother nor Jason Vega testified at the trial.

Sanders argued that Tyla Vega was excluded from family vacations and left at her grandmother’s home in Tallulah. In rebuttal, prosecutors showed several family photos including Tyla Vega.

Tyla Vega was arrested in Greenville six days after Michelle Vega’s body was found. She posted  $75,000 bail and was released, but later returned to jail after her bonding agent revoked her bail.

She has been held without bail in the Warren County Jail since that bond revocation in December 2011.