Andrew Solomon Jr. screamed when the judge sentenced him Thursday afternoon to life in prison for the Sept. 3 murder of 17-year-old Levy Lamont Daniel.
Solomon’s family rose from their seats, their voices fighting to be heard as deputies ushered them from the courtroom.
“He didn’t do it!” one person yelled.
“Don’t take my baby away from me!” another hollered.
The 20-year-old Solomon, who declined to testify in his own defense, turned his head toward the jury. “I didn’t even do it!” he wailed. “I didn’t even do it!”
Before Muscogee County Superior Court Judge Bobby Peters could finish sentencing him, deputies handcuffed Solomon and led him from the room.
Ten minutes later, he quietly re-entered the courtroom, where Peters sentenced him to life in prison with the chance of parole in 30 years.
“I’m just happy for the verdict,” said Senior Assistant District Attorney LaRae Moore. “I think the evidence supported it. This young man was gunned down and he was gunned down in sight of three of his friends.”
Jurors took about two hours to convict Solomon of murder, aggravated assault and a weapons charge. The jury found that Solomon fatally shot Daniel in the back at Booker T. Washington Apartments as Daniel was running away. A motorist found Daniel lying in the middle of Veterans Parkway, and he died hours later.
Susan Henderson, the attorney representing Solomon, said the facts didn’t point to Solomon.
“I’m stunned,” she said after the hearing. “I’m absolutely stunned. There was absolutely no evidence. I’ve never seen anything so egregious as this in my career.”
She said Solomon would appeal.
“He’s a 20-year-old kid with a baby that’s just been born,” Henderson said. “He’s in school and he’s trying to learn a trade.”
Moore said in her closing arguments to jurors that Booker T. Washington Apartments is a place that discourages residents from helping police.
“It is no secret — no secret — that Booker T. Washington Apartments has a bad reputation,” Moore said. “It operates under its own set of rules: Don’t talk to police. Don’t snitch. Don’t cooperate with the system.”
Two nearby events on the night of the shooting — a football game at A.J. McClung Memorial Stadium and a concert at the Columbus Civic Center — created a crowd in the area, Moore said. But she added that no witness volunteered information to police, who had to track down three of Daniel’s friends with him when he was shot.
Two of them — Jarvis Bell and Keandre Pearson — were reluctant to testify. The third friend, Antonio Cowell, identified Solomon as the shooter during the trial.
“Why, why would a victim’s friends be reluctant to testify?” Moore asked. “Why would they be hostile towards the prosecution in the case? Two reasons: fear and honor the code.”
About two years earlier, Solomon and Daniel had had a disagreement, Cowell testified. When Solomon recognized Daniel on Sept. 3, he approached him and asked why he was in the area, Cowell added that Daniel pulled a gun on Solomon but that Daniel’s friends talked him down and the group walked away.
Later, Solomon approached with his own gun, Cowell said, and pointed it at Daniel, who slapped Solomon’s hand away. Daniel then ran, and Solomon shot him, Cowell testified.
“Andrew Solomon was disrespected in BTW Apartments,” Moore said. “He did what he wanted to do, which was go get a gun on his own.
“We should never allow retaliation,” Moore added. “That’s what this case is about.”
Henderson said officers didn’t spend enough time on the scene and they didn’t speak to any residents. They also failed to search around BTW Apartments near where Daniel fell, she said.
“Where’s Levy’s gun?” Henderson asked. “Nobody tested it to see if it’d been fired. Nobody tested it to see if it would work. This is a murder case.
“I submit to you that in another neighborhood, this would have been on Crime Stoppers,” she added. “They would have searched for evidence. They would have investigated leads.”
Henderson theorized that after Solomon’s friends led him away, the adrenaline began pumping among those remaining and that someone else pulled a gun and shot Daniel.
“This case is reasonable doubt,” she said. “It should be the poster child for reasonable doubt.”
Credit: Dane Russell