Published: May 11, 2013
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ST. THOMAS - After deliberating for two days, a jury on Friday found two of the three defendants with murder in connection with the shooting of Aquil Abdullah guilty of reckless endangerment.
A third defendant was found not guilty of all charges relating to the death of Abdullah, who was shot 11 times at about 4 a.m. Nov. 20, 2010 after leaving Jaguars Nightclub in Havensight.
The jury returned verdicts about 5 p.m. Friday in V.I. Superior Court, finding Lorn Henley, 21, and Shakieme Freeman, 20, guilty of first-degree reckless endangerment and Vincent Thompson Jr., 24, not guilty of all charges.
Each of the defendants had been charged with second-degree murder; voluntary manslaughter; first-degree assault; third-degree assault; unauthorized use of a firearm during the commission of second-degree murder; and first-degree reckless endangerment.
"The real losers in this case were the people of the Virgin Islands," the victim's father, Amin Abdullah, said. "I know that these men were responsible for my son's death, but I accept the jury's decision because I know that God knows best and that they must come before the divine court."
According to eyewitness testimony, Aquil Abdullah became the center of an altercation involving all three defendants after he tossed a paper cup into the air and its contents splattered on the hood of a red Ford F-150 that Henley was driving.
Witnesses testified that the act enraged Henley and that Thompson and Freeman, friends who had gone with Henley to Jaguars, converged on the dispute just before gunshots erupted, leaving Aquil Abdullah dead on the ground.
Prosecutor Quincy McRae, who worked with Assistant Attorney General Edward Veronda on the case, said the penalties for reckless endangerment would be considerably less than those for second-degree murder or voluntary manslaughter.
Regarding what gaps in the prosecution's case could have resulted in the jury's findings of not guilty on the more serious offense, McRae offered no opinion.
"I really don't know," he said. "It was for the jury to decide, and I really can't speculate on what they were thinking."
During the course of the trial, Veronda tried to bolster eyewitness testimony with other evidence, such as gunshot-residue tests, cell phone records, ballistics data and DNA samples, that the prosecution said linked each of the men to the scene.
However, each defense attorney repeatedly pointed out that neither of the eyewitnesses who testified said they actually saw Thompson, Henley or Freeman draw a gun on the victim or shoot him.
The defense also called into question the integrity of the physical evidence, such as the particles of gunshot residue found on Henley's clothing and hands, and dismissed other forms of evidence, such as cell phone records showing Freeman made several calls directly after the shooting from a nearby location, as too circumstantial to prove guilt.
"These jurors had an extremely difficult job. They took a very hard look at all the evidence - and also lack of evidence - and I believe, still had a multitude of unanswered questions," said Russell Pate, who represented Freeman during the weeklong trial.
Henley and Freeman likely will file motions for a judgment of acquittal, Pate said.
Pate said he intends to file the motion, which would seek to have the Judge Adam Christian rule that there was insufficient evidence for the conviction, within the next 20 days, which was the time frame set by the judge.
This is at least the second time that Freeman has had a slew of gun-related charges reduced to first-degree reckless endangerment. Court records show that in July 2011, a jury convicted him of first-degree reckless endangerment; carrying or using a dangerous weapon; and unauthorized use of a firearm stemming from a Jan. 2011 shooting at Bovoni housing community.
Police arrested Freeman and Thompson after a witness identified them as being among a group of men who opened fire on the complex, dumped the weapons over a fence, then led police on a vehicle chase from which they ultimately escaped on foot.
A Superior Court judge ruled that there was insufficient evidence to uphold Freeman's convictions of carrying or using a dangerous weapon and unauthorized use of a firearm.
- Contact Amanda Norris at 714-9104 or email email@example.com.