Originally created 09/05/97

Jury finds one man guilty, acquits another



In little more than an hour Thursday, a Richmond County Superior Court jury convicted one Augusta man of murder but acquitted a second man facing the same charges.

At the conclusion of a three-day trial, jurors found Ernest Vaughns Jr., 18, guilty of felony murder, malice murder and possession of a weapon during the commission of a crime. But the jury only found Reginald Cummings, 24, guilty of aggravated assault.

Both men were accused of murder for the the Dec. 5, 1996, slaying of 24-year-old Jermaine Burris, who was shot in the back on Third Street.

Three witnesses testified this week that they saw Mr. Vaughns fire several gunshots at Mr. Burris, but prosecutors failed to convince the jury that Mr. Cummings was a party to the homicide and just as guilty of murder as Mr. Vaughns.

The two men wanted to kill Mr. Burris, Assistant District Attorney Patricia Johnson told the jury in her closing argument, because they thought Mr. Burris had cheated a drug customer on their home turf.

But Mr. Cummings' attorney, William Sussman, argued in closing that prosecutors only proved Mr. Cummings committed aggravated assault that night when he hit Mr. Burris with a baseball bat.

Mr. Vaughns' attorney, Brian Watkins, tried to convince the jury in his closing statement that it was impossible to believe the prosecutor's theory of when Mr. Burris suffered the deadly gunshot which tore through his heart.

"If he (Mr. Vaughns) fired the fatal shot, Jermaine Burris could not have gotten up, he could not have run down the street - he could not have run around the corner," as three witnesses testified, Mr. Watkins said.

But Ms. Johnson countered, "People can do remarkable things when faced with life or death situations."

Mr. Vaughns faces a mandatory life plus five years when sentenced. Mr. Cummings faces a possible sentence of one to 20 years, which could be concurrent or consecutive to the 20-year prison sentence he received last month for trafficking cocaine. A third man, Johnny Brown Jr., 24, pleaded guilty to aggravated assault in this case last month .

Mr. Burris and Mr. Cummings, along with 18-year-old Rufus Gantt, still face another murder trial. They are accused of gunning down 20-year-old Alfonzo R. Williams on Dec. 29, 1996, because he knew about Mr. Burris' slaying. Mr. Brown has also pleaded guilty in this case and received a 15-year prison sentence.