Teen sentenced to seven years in murder trial

Facing the possibility of a deadlocked jury and mistrial, attorneys in the trial of a teen accused of murder reached a compromise today.

Johnny Dinh, 17, pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and received a seven-year prison sentence followed by 13 years on probation, said Assistant District Attorney Adam King.

“It was a good compromise under the circumstances,” Mr. King said.

Mr. Dinh was 14 years old when he shot to death 20-year-old Rodney McGhee Jr. on May 3, 2006.

The two were neighbors on Keron Way in Hephzibah. The victim’s father testified this week he never heard of any problems between his son and Mr. Dinh, who lived nearby with his grandfather. Mr. Dinh would play basketball sometimes at the McGhee home.

Around 8 p.m. the day of the incident, the senior Mr. McGhee discovered his dying son on the side of the street not far from the family’s mailbox. The victim had been shot once in the chest.

Mr. Dinh had no reason to shoot Mr. McGhee unless he was being attacked as he told sheriff investigators later that night, defense attorney Jacque Hawk argued to the jury in his closing statement.

Mr. Dinh initially lied to detectives and claimed someone else must have killed Mr. McGhee. The second story he gave was that when the two crossed paths that night, an intoxicated Mr. McGhee grabbed him and tore his shirt. Mr. Dinh said he tried to warn off Mr. McGhee by firing his grandfather’s .22-caliber Luger at the ground. But Mr. McGhee charged at him and Mr. Dinh fired in self defense, he told detectives.

That account didn’t fit an eye witness’s account, the prosecutor countered. The witness saw Mr. Dinh arguing with Mr. McGhee and saw the victim walking away from the teen, Mr. King said.

Two shell casings from the gun were found 15 to 20 feet from Mr. McGhee’s body, Mr. King said. How, he asked the jury, can you be in jeopardy from an unarmed man 15 to 20 feet away?

A person is entitled to defend himself if he “reasonably believes” using deadly force is the only answer. But a person cannot use deadly force just because someone tore his shirt, Mr. King argued to the jury.

Mr. Dinh told investigators that he was scared of Mr. McGhee and what happened the night. But, Mr. King said, after emergency workers and sheriff officers arrived, Mr. Dinh returned the scene of the crime. How does that fit being scared to death?

Mr. Dinh’s attorney asked the jury to consider the situation from the perspective of a 14-year-old. Young teens often don’t act reasonably, Mr. Hawk said. He asked the jury to consider the fact Mr. Dinh only shot Mr. McGhee once. If he intended to kill, he would have fired several times, Mr. Hawk said.

Jurors deliberated most of the day Friday before announcing they were deadlocked and had been for several hours, Mr. King said. Judge James G. Blanchard Jr. sent them home for the night around 5 p.m. They returned this morning. The plea negotiation was reached about an hour later.

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