Wright, accused of trying to kill James Howard, Jr., stands with his attorney Michael Hanrahan while gesturing to media cameras during his trial at the Palm Beach County Courthouse in downtown West Palm Beach Tuesday afternoon, Jan. 10, …
Photographer: Richard Graulich, The Palm Beach Post
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — A jury took less than two hours this afternoon to convict Dominique Wright on charges of attempted murder and aggravated battery with a firearm for the March 2008 drive-by shooting of two men in Riviera Beach.
The verdict means the 19-year-old, who prosecutors say rapped about having someone finish his murder attempt in a YouTube video titled "Unfinished Bizness," could face 50 years or more in prison when he is sentenced Feb. 24.
One person noticeably absent in the packed courtroom during Wright's trial this week was the attempted murder victim, James Howard, Jr. He was killed in October, while Wright was awaiting trial.
And the trial itself was delayed a week when key evidence in the case was quarantined during a white powder scare at the Palm Beach State Attorney's office last week that sent four people to the hospital.
When the case resumed this week, prosecutors simply explained to jurors that the victim could not testify "due to circumstances beyond his control" and focused on his prior statements where he identified Wright and another man, Fritz Murdoch, as the masked men who opened fire on him and a friend in a March 2008 drive-by shooting in Riviera Beach.
During their closing arguments in the case this morning, Assistant State Attorneys Cheryl Caracuzzo and Chris Keller replayed two recorded videos of Wright, who raps under the name Dombo. Caracuzzo said the lyrics Wright spewed urged people loyal to him to kill Howard, who survived the 2008 shooting after taking shots to the face and arm that forced rescue workers to put him in a medically-induced coma and wire his jaw shut.
"If you didn't do it, if you weren't guilty, why would you want the victim dead?" Caracuzzo asked.
Prosecutors attribute the motive of the shooting to a dispute between Howard and Wright's uncle, but Defense Attorney Michael Hanrahan told jurors this morning that Wright's case was one of bad witness identification.
Hanrahan told jurors that although Howard identified his alleged shooters, Howard knew Wright before the shooting but never named him until police showed him a lineup featuring Wright and a bunch of strangers.
Both Howard and the passenger in his car, who was shot in the side, told police the shooters were wearing masks, but Howard told police they took their masks off for a moment and that's when he saw their faces. Hanrahan told jurors that Howard's story conflicted with the other victim's account of the case and pointed out what he called other inconsistencies in their stories.
And as for the rap videos? Hanrahan told jurors that rap was an art form and recited lyrics from the Beatles' Strawberry Fields Forever, saying they could be interpreted as death threats if taken out of context.
Seated in the courtroom throughout the trial were relatives of both Wright and Howard, who Palm Beach County Sheriff's deputies found shot to death in a white Mercedes-Benz Oct. 22 after someone called 911 and reported hearing gunshots near the 5300 black of Marcia Place in suburban West Palm Beach.
Investigators have not made any arrests in the case.
As for the 2008 attempt on Howard's life, Wright's co-defendant, Fritz Murdoch, is scheduled to stand trial in several weeks.
Jurors in Wright's case began deliberations just before 2 p.m.
Wright, now 19, could have faced up to life in prison on the charges but will avoid a life sentence because he was 16 at the time of the alleged offense. A U.S. Supreme Court ruling deemed life sentences unconstitutional for Florida teens convicted of crimes other than murder.
Copyright 2012 Scripps Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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