ELYRIA — Justin Chapman barely blinked Friday as he was convicted of murder and other charges in the shooting death of a friend during a botched 2005 robbery.
It was the second time Chapman, 19, has been convicted in the death of Darren English. His first conviction was overturned on appeal because his co-defendant and cousin, Julian Smith, told jurors during Chapman’s first trial that his plea bargain in the case was contingent upon Chapman being convicted.
It took jurors 2½ hours to return a guilty verdict Friday on murder, attempted murder, felonious assault, tampering with evidence and other charges.
Chapman, who was sentenced to 35 years to life in prison following his first conviction, could get more than 50 years behind bars when he is sentenced a second time on Aug. 10. Lorain County Common Pleas Judge Mark Betleski said that he could give Chapman a different sentence.
County Prosecutor Dennis Will has said the deal with Smith calls for his cooperation in the case, not a conviction. He said he would like to see Chapman receive the same sentence as before.
“I don’t see anything different from when he was sentenced previously, and I think that’s still an appropriate sentence,” he said.
Chapman was 14 when he, Smith and English donned masks and forced their way into the G Street home of William Fiske III, a small-time Lorain drug dealer, to rob him of drugs and cash on April 26, 2005.
Fiske was shot six times as he struggled with English, who was hit once and died after the would-be robbers fled the home. Fiske survived the shooting and being hit in the head by Smith.
During the trial, Smith said he fired at Fiske and English after he heard gunfire coming from his right where Chapman was shooting. Both men were armed with .22-caliber revolvers, but the bullet that killed English was consistent with being fired from Chapman’s gun.
Assistant County Prosecutor Laura Swansinger said during closing arguments Friday that even through Chapman didn’t mean to kill English, he was still responsible for his friend’s death.
Chapman, she said, made the choice to participate in the robbery and later led police to the gun he hid as he fled the scene.
Kenneth Lieux, Chapman’s attorney, told jurors that Smith cut a deal to save his own skin and his testimony couldn’t be trusted. He said prosecutors failed to prove that Chapman was even at the scene of the robbery.
But he said after the trial that Chapman should have taken the plea deals offered by prosecutors, including a deal he was offered in Juvenile Court that would have kept him in state custody until he turned 21. Chapman rejected that deal and subsequent plea offers after he was bound over to be tried as an adult.
“This was a difficult case for Justin to win, and I felt that he should have taken the plea deal,” Lieux said.
But Lieux also said that the case could be overturned again because Swansinger removed the only black juror from the pool of potential jurors.
Lieux said he objected to that, but Betleski ultimately agreed to the removal because the juror had said she had read about the case in the newspaper. Lieux said another juror who was left on the jury also had read about Chapman, in the newspaper.
Will said he stood behind Swansinger’s decision to remove the black juror. He said his office would deal with the issue if it does come up during an appeal.
Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or firstname.lastname@example.org.