It took a Muscogee County Superior Court jury about four hours Friday to convict Dequandrea Truitt and Shaquille Porter in the 2013 New Year’s Day murder of Charles Foster Jr.
It was an emotional afternoon for Foster’s mother, Jessie Foster.
“Victory! Victory!” she said moments after the eight-woman, four-man jury convicted Truitt and Porter on murder, aggravated assault and gun charges.
The two men are facing life in prison without parole for the murder convictions and up to 20 years for each of the assault charges. Defense attorneys are expected to argue for life with the possibility of parole, which would mean they would have to serve at least 30 years on the murder convictions.
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Foster, 24, was killed and seven others were injured at a party in the Majestic Sports Bar on Cusseta Road in the early hours of Jan. 1, 2013.
Superior Court Judge William Rumer is scheduled to sentence Truitt and Porter Thursday at 1:30 p.m.
Truitt, 22, sat quietly as the verdict was read in a courtroom that was circled with uniformed Muscogee County Sheriff’s deputies. Porter wiped away tears.
The security force inside and outside the courtroom approached 20 deputies. Many of the defendants’ family members who had watched the trial were not in the courtroom for the verdict.
Jessie Foster was.
She sobbed, just as she had done a day earlier when Senior Assistant District Attorney LaRae Moore made a powerful plea for conviction, explaining to the jury that the state’s case was hampered by a “culture of silence.”
Moore argued a day earlier that the jury needed to speak for Foster because he could not speak for himself.
Foster, 24, was a political science major from Quitman County, Ga., who was about to graduate from Columbus State University.
“They took my son’s life, and he had the chance to live a promising life,” Jessie Foster said. “He didn’t even have a chance to have a grandchild to carry on our family name.”
Jessie Foster said the last year has taken a toll on her.
“I couldn’t sleep,” she said. “This has been very hard on our family.”
Asked if this helped to ease the pain, Jessie Foster said yes.
“I am still going to hurt. I am still going to think about it. And I am still going to cry, but victory has been served,” she said.
Jessie Foster said Moore did “a wonderful job.”
She also had a message for the jury.
“Thank you very much,” she said. “And I wish you many blessings.”
Moore appeared to connect with the jury in her closing argument late Thursday afternoon as she explained why the state only had five eye witnesses in a club that was packed with about 200 people. Time and again she told the jury that “fear and friendship” were the reasons witnesses would not come forward.
Only three of the six people who were shot testified.
“I have no doubt that some of those people were friends of the defendants,” she said.
Moore said those who did come forward were labeled snitches, and to illustrate the point she taped a piece of paper with the word “snitch” written on it to her back during the closing.
Chief Assistant District Attorney Alonza Whitaker said Moore’s closing argument solidified the state’s case.
“I think it helped focus the jury on the difficulties and challenges that not only the prosecution faced, but what law enforcement has been dealing with. We have all been dealing with this culture of silence and intimidation.”
Moore said the jury’s verdict sent a “loud and clear message.”
“The message is that this community is not going to be handcuffed by a culture of silence,” she said. “We are going to protect everybody in this community.”
Truitt’s defense attorney Stacey Jackson would not say if Moore’s closing had an impact on the jury’s decision.
“You can never say,” Jackson said. “There was two weeks of testimony, more than 35 witnesses and more than 200 exhibits. Some jurors could have had their minds made up before the closings began.”
Moore said the verdict strengthened her confidence in the jury system.
“It reminded me that when people know why a case is the way it is, they will do the right thing,” she said. “ I believed in this case the entire time. From the first time I heard Erica Streeter’s testimony on tape, I believed in this case.”
Streeter was in the club and is the only person to testify that she saw Porter firing his weapon. Foster’s girlfriend, LaQuoia Arnold, was the only other witness to testify that either of the defendants had a weapon. Arnold told the court she saw Truitt leaving the club with a gun after the shooting inside.
Jackson said he was surprised and disappointed in the verdict because of what he called a lack of evidence against Truitt.
“This case has somewhat diminished my faith in the jury system,” Jackson said. “ Not one witness ever identified my client firing a gun inside the club.”
Moore credited Robert Smith, an investigator in the District Attorney’s Office, with tracking down witnesses who were hard to find or did not want to be found.
“There is no question he found witnesses that we did not think we would be able to locate,” Moore said.
Jessie Foster traveled more than an hour each way to be in the courtroom every day of the trial.
When it was over, she had a message for Arnold, her son’s girlfriend who talked him into going to the Majestic Sports Bar that night against his better judgement.
“She has apologized to our family, and we accept her apology,” Jessie Foster said. “She brought out what we wanted to hear from her.”