WEST PALM BEACH, Fla.-- Jurors convicted Antwon Jermaine Graham of first degree murder this afternoon in the shooting death of a 35-year-old man in the aftermath of a failed Thanksgiving 2008 robbery outside a Mangonia Park apartment complex.
The panel returned the guilty verdicts on the murder and attempted robbery charges after more than 10 hours of deliberations in the case which began last week.
The verdicts mean Judge Charles Burton could now decide whether Graham will serve life in prison or receive the death penalty for the crime. Burton asked prosecutors if they intended to proceed, and Assistant State Attorney Barbara Burns requested a bench conference with the judge to discuss the issue.
Several members of Graham's family left the courtroom in tears after hearing the verdict. Victim Wilsy Capre's parents, who attended each day of the trial, sat stoically in the front row of the courtroom at the verdicts were read.
Prosecutors say Graham and another man confronted Capre and shot him to death in his Cadillac after the duo unsuccessfully tried to rob Vernon and Pauline Molison, who later picked Graham out of a photo lineup.
By then, investigators had linked Graham to the killing through his work truck, found crashed not far from the scene. Graham reported his truck stolen shortly after the murder, but Assistant State Attorneys Barbara Burns and John Parnofiello told jurors in their closing arguments that Graham simply lied.
"He knows he has to explain why that truck was there so he has to concoct a story," Parnofiello said.
Assistant Public Defender Michael Schutt told jurors the case was one of mistaken identity, saying it was Graham's brother and his friend who committed the robbery and murder using Graham's car. Schutt said Graham knew his brother had taken his car when he called Riviera Beach Police to report it stolen, but he filed the false report in the hopes of collecting insurance money and, more importantly, to protect his brother.
Schutt described prosecutors' case as "a few weak links" strung together by shoddy police work. Though Capre was killed in November 2008, authorities did not arrest Graham until September 2009 after a grand jury indicted him on first degree murder and attempted robbery charges.
Burns and Parnofiello outlined the eyewitness testimony along with an accomplice's hair and blood found inside the car, saying those factors along with phone records undoubtedly linked Graham to Capre's death. Schutt said the fact authorities took so long to make an arrest belied that theory.
"If all this evidence is so compelling, why aren't they doing anything with this?" Schutt said of the investigation during closing arguments. "Because they had the same doubts that you should have after reviewing this evidence."
If the jury convicts Graham of first-degree murder, he could face a possible death penalty. Attorneys in the case decided, if that happens, to give up the possibility of a jury deciding between life and death. That means the possible life or death decision would be left to Circuit Judge Charles Burton.