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Defense says prosecutors got Exxon slaying all wrong. Now, it's for a jury to decide.

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GREENSBORO — Attorneys in the Zanelle Tucker homicide case made their closing arguments Thursday in Guilford County Superior Court. Now, a jury will decide the fate of two defendants charged with the brutal slaying of the young mother crushed by an SUV at a local gas station.

Those jurors will start deliberating this morning.

Meranda Chantel Watlington, 31, and Fana Aquette Felton, 30, are being tried together in the October 2019 death of the 30-year-old Tucker, who was run over by the SUV Watlington was driving after a minor fender-bender sparked a late-night brawl at an Exxon on Gate City Boulevard.

"We know Meranda Watlington felt every single one of those bodies under that Ford Explorer," prosecutor Leah Howell told the jury.

The women, who are cousins, face 16 charges. Of the most serious, Watlington faces one count of first-degree murder and five counts of attempted first-degree murder. Felton is facing accessory after the fact on each of those charges.

Defense attorneys for both women said prosecutors got what happened that night all wrong. Felton got into the vehicle with Watlington after she ran into the crowd a second time. Because of that, attorney Joe Floyd of High Point said she shouldn't have been charged with anything.

Ray Griffis Jr., of Chapel Hill said Watlington is remorseful but facing the wrong charges.

Griffis spent the better part of an hour giving jurors a path to finding Watlington not guilty while Felton's attorney tried to overcome crude gestures made by his client that were captured on video while some of the injured were motionless on the ground.

They would each argue that the state hasn't told the full story.

Watching it play out this week have been Tucker's parents, who sat on the front row behind prosecutors each day but have averted their eyes or left the courtroom during much of the video evidence. Relatives of the defendants have also been in court, but on Thursday the judge asked that the youngest children be removed to make sure that all the attorneys could be heard without distractions.

Both sides concede the 3 a.m. brawl was sparked by a minor accident that was caught on the station's security cameras. Others there that night also captured the scene on their smartphones and later posted the disturbing images to social media. The footage shows Tucker and Watlington attempting to prevent a fight between Felton and an unidentified person. Then the crowd turns on Watlington, who is hit and kicked after she is knocked to the ground.

Howell, the prosecutor, asked jurors not to consider Watlington a victim. To make her point, Howell said aloud the names and injuries of everyone who was hit by the SUV Watlington was driving. 

"She did not choose to walk away," Howell said. "And when she got punched, she got angry. She was going to let that crowd of people know who was boss."

Howell added that before Watlington ever put her foot on the gas, she adjusted her seat. 

"That's about 12 to 13 seconds of thinking about what she's going to do," Howell said.

None of the people hurt had been fighting with Watlington.

"The victims, on top of being unarmed and unprotected, didn't even see the car coming," Howell said.

If it were unintentional, Howell argued that Watlington would have acted differently. You didn't see her get out of the car, Howell told the jury.

"She didn't raise her hands and say "Oh, God, what did I do?" Howell followed. "She didn't try to help a single soul."

Howell ended by showing a part of the video where Watlington has driven over the victims, including Tucker, a second time and Felton is seen making an obscene gesture to those on the ground.

Then Felton climbs into the SUV and the two women drive off.

During Floyd's closing argument, he conceded that Felton made bad choices that night.

"It's kind of hard to watch," Floyd said of Felton's obscene gesture before getting into the vehicle. "But we can't convict people on their actions, whether you like it or not, if it's not against the law."

He said another bad decision was Felton getting into the car with Watlington after what happened.

Although the pathology report said that Tucker died after being crushed by the 4,400-pound SUV, Griffis tried to put doubt in the minds of jurors by saying her death could have come before that. Tucker is struck twice by the vehicle, but Griffis said that witnesses testified that she had been punched in the temple by someone in the crowd before hitting the concrete.

He went on to ask why the state put the medical examiner's supervisor on the stand instead of the person who actually performed the autopsy.

"He would never say 100% if Ms. Tucker was dead or alive before being run over by the Ford Explorer," Griffis said of the supervisor's testimony.

Contact Nancy McLaughlin at 336-373-7049 and follow @nmclaughlinNR on Twitter.

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