DECATUR - After deliberating for three hours, a jury of seven men and five women convicted half brothers Elliott T. Murphy, 18, and Deonta "Fuss" Johnson, 16, of first-degree murder and attempted first-degree murder, in the stomping death of 61-year-old Jerry Newingham and a similar stomping attack on 46-year-old Kevin S. Wilson.
After the verdict was read by Associate Judge Timothy Steadman at 2:35 p.m. Tuesday, the mother of the defendants screamed loudly, placed her hand over her mouth and walked quickly out of the courtroom.
Steadman had told the spectators before the verdict was read that they should leave the courtroom if they could not restrain themselves from emotional outbursts.
After the jury was dismissed, Murphy, seated at the defense table, suddenly screamed, "I just got found guilty of murder." He cursed loudly and said something inaudible.
About five law enforcement officers, some of whom had been standing within a few feet of him, rushed to restrain Murphy. When he reacted physically to their efforts, he was wrestled to the floor. One of the officers shocked him with a Taser. He was then placed in handcuffs and hustled out of the courtroom.
While this was going on, Johnson, seated at the end of the table farthest from the jury box, knocked a TV monitor off the table. Officers quickly restrained him, handcuffed his hands behind his back and led him from the courtroom.
Murphy and Johnson, each facing up to 90 years in prison, will be sentenced by Steadman at a hearing, scheduled for Sept. 28.
Family members of the victims expressed their relief and gratitude for the verdicts.
"I'm pleased," said Jason Newingham, 34, a son of the murder victim, adding that he received some fulfillment from the verdict. "The legal system done right. The state's attorneys did a good job."
His brother, Jerry Newingham Jr., 35, said it has been a long, hard road since he heard his father had been attacked two years ago.
"The state has revealed the evidence," Newingham Jr. said. "The jury has decided 100 percent that they were guilty, and that was the way we always thought it would be. I can at least have closure now, and we can go on with our lives. Thank God, it came out the way it did."
He said the prosecutors prepared well, covered all their bases and received justice for their father.
Newingham Jr. recalled that it was his 13th wedding anniversary when he received the call that his father was in a coma after being attacked by a group of teenage boys.
His wife, Misty, who sat through the trial along with a group of about seven family members, said Aug. 24 has a new meaning for her.
"Our anniversary ain't never going to be the same like it used to," Misty Newingham said.
On Tuesday morning, the young defendants sat silently at the defense table as their attorneys and a prosecutor delivered closing arguments to the jurors.
The jurors began their deliberations at 11:35 a.m. Tuesday, on the seventh day of the trial.
Murphy and Johnson, the only two defendants to stand trial in this case, were charged with being the instigators and main assailants who stomped to death Jerry Newingham and almost killed Wilson in separate attacks, about 90 minutes apart, on Aug. 24, 2009, on Decatur's north side.
Murphy stared at the jurors as they heard Assistant Macon County State's Attorney Nichole Kroncke argue that the state's overwhelming evidence demands a guilty verdict, and assistant public defenders Randy Baker and Steven G. Jones argue that the eyewitnesses were unreliable and should not be believed.
Johnson stared straight ahead during the arguments, in the direction of an exit door.
Kroncke said the two innocent, defenseless victims were viciously attacked by a mob of teens looking for someone to rob.
"They were mercilessly punched, kicked and stomped and left for dead," Kroncke said.
The overwhelming evidence included eyewitness testimony, as well as physical, scientific and circumstantial evidence, she argued. One of Johnson's shoes had blood with human DNA found in a sole tread nine days after the crimes. A towel that was allegedly used to wipe blood off Murphy's shoes was also found to have blood with human DNA in it.
Kroncke explained some of the jury instructions, including that the jurors did not need to find that the defendants intended to kill Jerry Newingham to find them guilty of murder.
Kroncke summarized the testimony of the eyewitnesses, which included three who had been part of the mob of nine male teens that started out from MacArthur High School after school let out for the day. She said none of the eyewitnesses had reasons to lie; they were all either friends of the defendants or strangers. Martin Wheeler, Cedric Rhone and Branden White testified that they saw Murphy and Johnson stomping Jerry Newingham.
Kroncke reminded the jurors of testimony that Newingham's brutal beating resulted in brain injuries, rib fractures and lung injuries that prevented him from being able to breathe on his own. He was transported from the crime scene in the 500 block of West Sawyer Street to Decatur Memorial Hospital, where he died 12 days later, after he was removed from life support. He never regained consciousness after the attack.
During her closing, Kroncke played a videotaped police interview with a 14-year-old girl who witnessed the attack on Wilson at Garfield Park. The girl told police that Murphy and Johnson were among the teens who stomped on Wilson.
"They were jumping on him like he was a trampoline, basically," the girl told a detective.
Baker and Jones told the jurors that all the eyewitnesses were lying for various reasons. Almost all of them had told different stories to the police when first interviewed and later changed their stories under the pressure from the police. Officers brought them in for questioning after determining they had more information.
Jones said not only should none of the witnesses be believed, but there was virtually no scientific evidence linking them to the incidents.
"There is no DNA or blood evidence connecting either of these defendants to either of these incidents," Jones said.
With a loud voice charged with emotion, Jones said of his client, "Deonta Johnson is not guilty."
In her rebuttal, Kroncke said the eyewitnesses were believable. Those who testified that they saw Murphy and Johnson stomping on victims were not mistaken.
"This is something that probably will always stick in their minds," Kroncke said.
Four other defendants have been convicted in this case, after pleading guilty to charges ranging from first-degree murder to mob action.