Denzel Ward sat stone-faced as the mother of the man he murdered told him Friday that she forgave him.
Moments before, a Richmond County Superior Court jury returned a verdict finding Mr. Ward guilty of murder and a weapons violation.
Mr. Ward was just 16 on the night of July 1, 2007, when he fired several shots in the parking lot of Club Platinum. One bullet struck 24-year-old Nicholas Carpenter, tearing through a major artery in his abdomen, killing him.
According to witnesses who testified this week, Mr. Ward was upset after a group of young men from a rival neighborhood jumped him inside the club. He retaliated by firing several shots at the front of the building, where many people were milling about.
Mr. Carpenter was just there to pick up his little sister, said Diane Murphy, their mother.
"Nicholas was innocent," she said.
It was a senseless crime, and all the pain inflicted on her family and Mr. Ward's could have been avoided if Mr. Ward hadn't picked up a gun that night, Ms. Murphy said.
Mr. Ward testified that it was an acquaintance, Qwmane Coleman, who fired a gun from the backseat of his car.
But both Mr. Coleman, who is in jail awaiting charges in another shooting, and 16-year-old Chavious Oliver, who is in juvenile detention for violating the probation sentence he received for cocaine, both testified that Mr. Ward was the shooter.
It was painfully obvious that neither Mr. Coleman nor Mr. Oliver, nor any of the other witnesses, wanted to testify, Assistant District Attorney Geoffrey Fogus said in his closing argument.
All the witnesses seemed to change their account of what they saw or heard, defense attorney Michael Garrett told the jury. Mr. Ward was the one witness who answered every question directly and without contradiction, Mr. Garrett said.
Mr. Fogus conceded that Mr. Ward did a good job on the witness stand, but he asked the jury to judge the truth of what witnesses said, not their character.
The jury deliberated about five hours Friday.
Because there was only one sentence possible for Mr. Ward, the attorneys agreed to an immediate sentencing.
Judge James G. Blanchard Jr. imposed the sentence of life in prison plus five years.
Ms. Murphy said she knows this will be hard for Mr. Ward's family but that they will be able to visit him, and someday he might again have a life and a family. She will never have her son back, she said.
"I forgive you because that's the only way I can find closure ... he was my only son," she said.
Reach Sandy Hodson at (706) 823-3226 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
CONTEMPT OF COURT
This week's trial had a crowded courtroom most days, and Judge James G. Blanchard Jr. ran a tight ship. During the trial, several people were found in contempt and the judge ordered them taken into custody. They had the option of 20 days in jail or a $200 fine.
- Samilla Brown, a witness who was late to court and found to have cocaine in her pocket when arrested
- Tierra Jones, a witness who was late to court
- Tacoyia Nolan, a witness who was late to court
- Calvin Morton, a witness who was a day late to court
- Indigo Bush, a court observer whose cell phone rang during court. Everyone was warned repeatedly this week to ensure cell phones were turned off.