After four hours of deliberation Wednesday evening, a jury unanimously declared a Newton County teen guilty of murder for the 2007 shooting death of Kawasikis Ricks during a botched armed robbery.
Trevarius Dexter White, 17, was found guilty of all six counts against him, including malice murder, felony murder, armed robbery, aggravated assault and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony.
After the verdict, White made a short apology.
"I just want to tell the family I'm sorry," he said, making little eye contact. "I didn't mean to take your son's life."
The victim's aunt, Elizabeth Ricks, spoke in court as well. "We hold no hard-feelings to the family for anything," she said. "Being a Christian, I have to forgive him for what he took from me. He took a lot from me."
Judge John Ott spoke against segments of the entertainment industry that glorified violence and urged
people to be decent to one another and break the cycle of violence that lead to the death of the victim.
In the hallway outside the courtroom, Ricks' family members collapsed in tears.
Sentencing was postponed until after pre-sentencing investigations from the district attorney's office and from the defendant's attorney based on White's time in jail as a juvenile.
The jury of eight white women, two black women and two white men quickly reached a unanimous consensus on most of the counts against White except malice murder. Questions were asked to clarify the charge, which Judge Ott described as an unlawful intent to kill without excuse or justification that did not require premeditation, ill will or hatred. Two unconvinced jurors changed their verdicts after more deliberation to find White guilty of malice murder as well.
In closing arguments, attorney John Strauss, representing White, acknowledged Ricks' group and White's group had each been out to cheat the other, but he said there was no evidence the shot fired by White was the shot that killed Ricks. Strauss pointed out there were multiple gunshots heard on a 911 call made by a neighbor, as opposed to the single gunshot described by witnesses.
Strauss also claimed White shot the shotgun in self-defense because he believed Ricks and his associates were armed after a comment mad e by Ricks' cousin referring to a "tool" or gun he had.
"It was done based upon the reasonable belief of his protection under those circumstances," Strauss said.
Chief Assistant District Attorney Layla Zon said there was no evidence Ricks presented any threatening behavior and was unarmed when he encountered White, who was hiding behind a wall.
"We're not here to determine the Kennedy assassination today," said Zon, referring to Strauss's proposal that another, unidentified shooter might have killed Ricks. "We can go piece-by-piece but there's no dispute that this man shot that shotgun."
Zon railed against the effect of drugs in society and a Wild West, thug mentality that allowed such things to happen. "You know why he shot and killed him? Because he could," Zon said. "He shot him because he wanted that money. He shot him like a deer running across the yard."
Four other co-defendants, Terrance Reid, Clarence Benton, Brandon Hudnal, and Marino Tuggle, accepted plea deals earlier this week and last week, receiving sentences ranging from 10 to 25 years in confinement. Reid, Benton and Hudnal took the stand against White as part of their sentencing, giving slightly conflicting testimonies at times.
The shooting occurred on the night of June 18, 2007 in the Hidden Pines subdivision. A drug deal had been set up for Ricks to buy 20 pounds of marijuana from Reid for about $11,000. But Reid and his four associates - Benton, Hudnal, Tuggle and White - never brought the drugs, intending to rob Ricks of the money. Ricks may have also intended to cheat them, bringing counterfeit currency.
According to the prosecution, the night of the deal, Ricks and his three associates initially called off the transaction when they were met by a man they didn't know - Benton - who seemed nervous. During that first tense meeting, Ricks' cousin allegedly made a comment about having a "tool" or a firearm. Ricks returned a second time with only one other person, the man who had brokered the deal, Justin Hall, after receiving reassurances from Reid. At the back of the carport, Hall and Ricks encountered White, who had a shotgun pointed at them and reportedly told them to give up what they had.
As Ricks turned to run, he was shot in the back of the neck and fell face-first on the front lawn. His body was turned over and the money in his pocket allegedly taken.
Hall ran from the opposite direction, according to his testimony, and flagged a ride to his apartment. He later went to his mother, who reported her son's involvement to investigators.
Reid and his group quickly left the subdivision as well, and the murder weapon was never recovered by investigators.
Rachel Oswald contributed to this report.