Trial continues in Berki murder, verdict may come back soon
by Neal Putnam
Published - 11/14/12 - 04:27 PM | 4076 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Garrett Berki
Garrett Berki
Jury deliberations continued this week in the murder trial of three young men accused of killing Garrett Berki, the 2010 La Jolla High graduate who was shot to death last year when he answered a Craigslist ad for a computer.

The seven-woman, five-man jury began deliberations on Nov. 9 after a day and a half of closing arguments before Judge Kerry Wells.

Deputy District Attorney Kristian Trocha urged a guilty verdict of first-degree murder and robbery of Berki, 18, and his girlfriend, Alejandra Foudoa, on May 11, 2011 in Paradise Hills, where Berki drove to answer the ad.

Trocha also asked jurors to convict all three men of committing the crimes as part of a criminal street gang. The gang allegation would increase sentences if they are convicted, but all three defense lawyers said they were not gang members.

Berki and Foudoa were robbed of more than $600 and their cell phones on Casey Street around dusk. Berki followed the men to try and get their license-plate number, and both cars ended up in a cul-de-sac where the shooting occurred.

Attorney Kate Coyne, who represents the alleged gunman, Rashon Jay Abernathy, 18, asked for a guilty verdict for involuntary manslaughter. Coyne argued that Abernathy, who was seated in the back seat of the stolen car the three had driven to meet Berki, accidentally shot the victim when the driver of the car suddenly hit the brakes.

“This is a tragedy, but it is not a premeditated act,” argued Coyne.

Attorneys for Shaquille Kasiya Jordan and Seandell Lee Jones, both 19, urged the jury to acquit the men of murder and only convict them of two robberies. Both attorneys said the robbery of Berki had concluded minutes earlier, and he was shot when he drove after them to get a license-plate number.

Abernathy, who lived in Paradise Hills just blocks away from the shooting, testified Nov. 5 and 6, saying the shooting was accidental. Abernathy said Berki was swerving back and forth with his car as he was following them.

“I didn’t know what Garrett was trying to do,” said Abernathy. “I was scared. That basically covered what I was thinking at the time.”

Jordan was driving a stolen Honda that had a child-safety feature that only allowed the rear passenger window to go up halfway. Abernathy said he grabbed the gun “to scare him off” and “put it out the window,” but couldn’t hold it well.

“I pointed it, but didn’t aim it specifically at Garrett’s car, to scare him so he could see the gun and stop following us,” said Abernathy.

“The car stopped, it jerked me and I shot the gun,” said Abernathy, who said he was surprised when the gun fired. “I didn’t intentionally shoot Garrett. I was just trying to scare him.”

Only one shot was fired, but the bullet went through the windshield, hitting the rear-view mirror, and struck Berki in the shoulder. It traveled to his lungs and he died when major arteries were severed.

Abernathy said Jordan was “horrible” at driving and they were all “yelling at each other.” Just two blocks away, the car crashed and they all fled in different directions.

Dozens of police officers responded with dogs and a helicopter, and all three suspects were found. The computer Berki sought to buy was found in a backpack with his stolen cellphone. The money, gun and clothing were all found.

Abernathy also admitted to robbing a Pacific Beach man at gunpoint a week earlier when the victim also responded to a Craigslist ad for a $600 computer. He said he had never fired a gun before.

The trio were all 17 years old at the time, but were ordered to stand trial as adults. They remain in custody on $5 million bail.

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