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Jury verdict moments too late
Humberto Lorenzo-Diaz

In the movies everything always comes down to a climactic moment.

Last week, the real life murder case of Humberto Lorenzo-Diaz in Rockdale County Superior Court last week played out like a movie as the outcome boiled down to the moments before the jury's verdict.

 Lorenzo-Diaz and the state eventually settled on a plea agreement of 20 years to serve 15, but it was a deal that was barely reached.

The trial took four days to play out before the jury went into deliberations last Thursday afternoon. The jury then took all of Friday and Monday to come to a verdict. Then, as the bailiff was walking in with the jury's decision the state and defense agreed on a plea deal to put an end to the trial just before the judge would have read "guilty" or "not guilty."

"It felt like a movie," defense attorney Mark Issa said. "The juror's deputy was walking in, and I saw that piece of paper in his hand and knew what it was.

"Thankfully we were able to finalize the plea prior to the verdict being read," he said.

The state and the defense began working on an agreement Monday when it became evident the jury was having some difficulty reaching a unanimous decision. At one point Monday, the jury was split 7-5 heading into its lunch break.

"There was some information that the jury may have been hung or there were some serious differences between the jury, that we would have went to a retrial if we didn't come to some sort of agreement," said Rockdale Assistant District Attorney Paul Stalcup.

The two sides opted to go for an agreement rather than the alternative of a hung jury, retrial or an option for the verdict later being appealed.

"We didn't know ultimately if they were going to turn a verdict one way or the other," Stalcup said. "We looked at everything we had and made an offer."

Defense attorneys Issa and Ash Joshi talked about potential offers from the beginning of the trial, but one was never offered from the state. In a malice murder case, the sentence is limited to life only. However, the plea agreement was made for a 20-year manslaughter sentence, to serve 15.

Lorenzo-Diaz, who was tried for shooting Conyers resident Raul Ramirez more than 20 times in 2009, is currently serving a 10-year prison sentence on drug charges in Fulton County. His sentence for killing Ramirez will run concurrent to that charge, meaning it would add five years to his current situation.

"We expect he'll be deported as a result, but it was a good deal at the end of the day," Issa said.

Both sides thought an agreement never would have been needed if the jury would have delivered a verdict earlier.

"I thought they would be out an hour and it would be a guilty verdict," Stalcup said. "You never know what the jurors would do but I was convinced the evidence was there to convict him beyond a reasonable doubt."