A former Palos Verdes High School student was acquitted today of a first-degree murder charge stemming from a South Los Angeles gang shooting that left a 21-year-old man dead.
After more than a week of deliberations, a downtown Los Angeles jury of eight women and four men also acquitted Cameron Terrell, 18, of two counts of attempted murder involving two other men who were not injured in the Oct. 1,2017, shooting that killed Justin Holmes. Prosecutors contended Terrell drove the getaway car in the shooting.
The courtroom was packed with more than a dozen members of the victims' families as Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Leslie A. Swain warned everyone against any emotional outbursts during the reading of the verdict.
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Ten sheriff's deputies stood guard and the victims' and defendant's family were guided out of the courtroom separately following the acquittal.
Both groups declined to comment to reporters, though some of the victims' family or friends could be heard softly cursing the verdict while filing out.
Defense attorney Jovan Blacknell told reporters outside the courtroom that he and his client were "happy with the outcome'' though somewhat dissatisfied with the process and "not even convinced that (Terrell) should have ever been charged with anything, certainly not murder.''
Prosecutors focused too much on extraneous issues, like Terrell's Facebook posts and interest in rap music, that had little bearing on the alleged crime, Blacknell said.
The evidence showed that "Cameron Terrell did not possess any weapons, he did not shoot anybody, he was not part of any conspiracy, or any plan or plot. ... At best the evidence suggests that Cameron was a witness,'' the defense attorney said, adding that his client made a good story because of his "background, his family, where he resides, his school.''
The defense attorney originally said Terrell would be putting out a statement rather than answering questions in front of the cameras, but his client asked to say one thing.
"Rest in peace, Justin Holmes, you shouldn't have gone that day,'' Terrell said. "I pray for his family every night. This has been weighing on me every single day of my life.''
Terrell said he plans to go to college at the University of Houston and wants to go to law school based on what Blacknell called his client's "newfound love for the law.''
Terrell's family gathered in the hallway outside the courtroom before the verdict was read to pray, and later a reporter asked the defendant if he had been praying too.
"Of course,'' Terrell said. "I talk to God everyday and God knows I was innocent ... God knows what really happened that day.''
Deputy District Attorney Adan Montalban told jurors during the trial that Terrell is a gang member. He said Terrell knew there was a gang rivalry -- in which a fellow gang member had been shot earlier -- when he drove into rival gang territory with two juveniles who got out of the car and confronted Holmes and the other two men, who denied any gang affiliation before the shooting on 78th Street near Western Avenue.
When asked Monday if his client was a gang member, Blacknell said Terrell should not be condemned for being open-minded enough to have a wide range of friends from different backgrounds, some of whom have friends in gangs and may "walk a different path'' than his client.
At trial, the deputy district attorney disputed Terrell's subsequent claim to police that he thought the two juveniles he was driving might yell out or engage in a fistfight, questioning why the defendant stopped his car out of sight and let two juveniles get out of the vehicle to confront three adults if he thought it was going to be a fistfight.
Blacknell told jurors his client didn't know anyone was going to be shot on a Sunday in broad daylight.
"Cameron didn't expect to hear gunshots. He didn't expect any of this to happen,'' Terrell's attorney said.
"When he hears the gunshots, he's shocked,'' Terrell's attorney said, telling jurors that the young man's first instinct after hearing the gunshots was to "survive'' and "drive a whole city block away.''
He said his client was reacting to something he didn't expect and that he thought his two friends were in danger when he saw them running back to the vehicle, and questioned why Terrell would drive "his daddy's car'' if he knew there was going to be a shooting.
Terrell and the two juvenile suspects were arrested Oct. 12. A $5 million bond was subsequently posted on Terrell's behalf and he returned to classes at Palos Verdes High School. The two juveniles are awaiting trial.
When news of Terrell's arrest spread at the campus in the upscale area, some parents began expressing concern about the safety of allowing him back in class.
His parents -- identified by the Daily Breeze as media consulting firm president Donald Wayne Terrell and interior designer Debra Terrell -- eventually agreed to pull him out of classes.
Terrell told reporters Monday he felt blessed that his father could afford a good attorney before saying he was "happy to be free'' and reiterating his prayers for the victim's family.