Terrence “Chill” Booth escaped a second murder conviction Monday when jurors acquitted him of shooting a homeless man in the head while he slept.
It’s the third murder trial Norfolk prosecutors have lost in the past two months. Six of the past seven murder cases they’ve taken to trial have ended in acquittal.
Prosecutors accused Booth, 41, of executing Addison “Hollywood” Shearin in July 2016 while the 46-year-old homeless man slept under a gazebo in Lafayette Park.
“He is a cold-blooded killer,” prosecutor Cindy Collard told jurors.
Raymond “Roc” Hayes, who was also homeless and spending the night under the gazebo, testified he watched Booth sneak up and shoot Shearin in the head. He also said the two had argued hours earlier when Shearin accused Booth of selling him bad drugs.
Booth’s attorney, Eric Korslund, told jurors Hayes is a 12-time convicted felon, someone they probably wouldn’t take a $10 check from or let into their homes – yet prosecutors wanted a man sent to prison based on his word.
“He has no credibility,” Korslund added. “Without him, there is no case.”
Hayes testified three other people were at the gazebo when Booth shot Shearin, passed out or nodding off after a night of heavy drinking. But none of them saw Booth shoot Shearin or run away, and only woke up when Hayes roused them.
“Why can’t they find the other three people?” Korslund asked the jury. “Do they exist?”
Cellphone records backed up some of Hayes’ testimony. Booth’s phone was in or near Lafayette Park between 10:45 p.m. on July 17 and 12:30 the next morning, police investigator Martin Zelada told jurors.
If the phone had been at his house a third of a mile away, as Korslund said, it would’ve pinged off a different cellphone tower.
But, Korslund said during his closing argument, prosecutors and police don’t even know when Shearin died. It might’ve been at 12:15 in the morning when the cellphone records show Booth’s phone was near the park. Or it might’ve happened at 4 a.m., when the phone was at Booth’s house on 35th Street.
In the end, the jury – made up of three black men, three black women, three white men and two white women – didn’t think prosecutors’ evidence was enough.
They deliberated two hours before returning a not guilty verdict.
It’s important for prosecutors to follow the evidence and take cases to trial where jurorw ultimately decide whether someone’s guilty, said Amanda Howie, Commonwealth’s Attorney spokeswoman.
It was an unusual trial, one interrupted by a snowstorm and nearly derailed by no-show jurors.
Circuit Judge Mary Jane Hall started with 13 jurors on Wednesday. But after snow closed the courthouse Thursday, two of them didn’t show up for the second day of trial on Friday.
Hall dismissed another because the juror told her she’d heard about Booth’s criminal record.
With only 10 jurors, the judge had already declared a mistrial and was in the middle of apologizing to Shearin’s family for forcing them to wait even longer for justice. As she did, a court official told her an 11th juror had finally answered her phone and was on her way.
Booth could’ve insisted on his constitutional right to be tried by 12 people, forcing a mistrial. But he and prosecutors agreed to continue short-handed.
Shearin’s mother said she was too upset to talk about the verdict. When asked, she simply said, “Not right now,” as she looked out a fifth-floor courthouse window.
Booth won’t get out of jail. He’s still charged with being a felon in possession of a gun in connection with the shooting that killed Shearin.
Still, he seemed pleased and relieved with the verdict, Korslund said.
If Booth had been convicted, jurors would’ve heard about his previous murder conviction before sentencing, a fact that was inadmissible before they decided on a verdict.
Booth was convicted of second-degree murder in a 1994 shooting, and court records show Norfolk police suspect him of killing 28-year-old Jalil Skinner in May 2016. Hayes told police Booth confessed to killing Skinner.
Jonathan Edwards, 757-446-2536, firstname.lastname@example.org Follow @VPjedwards on Twitter.