Thursday, November 15, 2012
Three young men were convicted today of first-degree murder in the death of a college student who was lured to a late-night robbery in Paradise Hills by a Craigslist ad for a laptop computer.
Rashon Abernathy, 18, and his 19-year-old friends, Seandell Jones and Shaquille Jordan, were also convicted of robbery, shooting at an occupied vehicle and auto theft.
After four days of deliberations, jurors determined that the defendants -- who prosecutors said were gang members -- did not commit the crimes for the benefit of a street gang.
Abernathy, Jones and Jordan were convicted in the May 11, 2011, robbery-murder of 18-year-old Garrett Berki, a 2010 graduate of La Jolla High School. Berki's girlfriend went with him to check out the computer for sale and was also a victim of robbery.
The jury also found Abernathy guilty of robbery for stealing $600 from a Navy man who responded to a Craigslist ad to buy a similar computer on May 5, 2011.
"Everyone makes choices in life," Deputy District Attorney Kristian Trocha said after the verdicts. "They (the defendants) chose to join a gang and chose to murder Garrett Berki."
Jordan's attorney, Zaki Zehawi, told Judge Kerry Wells that the case would likely be appealed and said his client would not speak to probation officers about the incident. Attorneys for Abernathy and Jones said their clients would also remain silent when they're interviewed in advance of sentencing, which is set for Jan. 25.
Abernathy faces up to 60 years to life in prison. Jordan and Jones could get 50 years to life.
In his closing argument, Trocha said Berki died because Abernathy "brought a gun to a robbery."
The prosecutor said Berki went to Paradise Hills about 10 p.m. with his girlfriend to buy a MacBook Pro computer advertised on Craigslist for $600. The defendants grabbed the money and the victims' cellphones and got into a stolen car driven by Jordan, he said.
Berki and his girlfriend were headed to report the theft when he spotted the defendants' car and gave chase on state Route 54, Trocha said. The cars exited the freeway several miles away and ended up front-to-front in a cul-de-sac.
Abernathy fired one shot through the windshield of the victims' car, striking Berki in the shoulder, the prosecutor said. Berki died about 45 minutes later.
Jordan drove off but crashed the car in a nearby cul-de-sac and the defendants ran off, only to be arrested a short time later, Trocha said.
Later in a holding cell, the defendants admitted their roles in the robbery-murder, the prosecutor said.
Abernathy's attorney, Kathleen Coyne, told the jury that her client admitting doing the robberies and brandishing a gun, but was not guilty of murder. The attorney said her client should be convicted of involuntary manslaughter.
Coyne said Abernathy didn't know the gun that killed Berki was loaded, and it discharged accidentally when Jordan suddenly hit the brakes. She said Abernathy was not a gang member and thought of the Craigslist robbery scam on his own. When the shooting happened, the robbery was over, Coyne said.
"This is a tragedy, but it's not a murder," she told the jury. Jordan's mother, Patricia Dykes, commented about her son after the verdicts.
"He was a straight-A student," Dykes said. "He's never been in trouble before. He's never been incarcerated before."