A Tarrant County jury took about an hour to convict a man of capital murder for fatally shooting a man during a robbery where no one was supposed to get hurt.
Prosecutors had accused the defendant, Latharian Merritt, 24, of Long Beach, California, of killing Ethan Walker, the father of a 3-year-old daughter, during a botched home invasion robbery. Six other youths were arrested in connection with the July 26, 2016, slaying at a residence in the 1500 block of Aspen Court in Mansfield.
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Because the death penalty was waived in this case, the capital murder conviction carries with it an automatic sentence of life in prison without parole.
The case gained national attention because of the alleged involvement of a popular local rapper, Taymor "Tay-K 47" McIntyre, 17, of McKinney.
One witness testified on Wednesday that after the robbery, McIntyre was angry that the defendant "popped someone and we only got a little cash and a watch."
Walker was not the only person who was shot. The target of the botched robbery, Zach Beloate, 19, testified Wednesday that he was shot in the shoulder and the bullet exited his chest.
The group of seven would-be robbers did not plan to shoot anyone, according to Merritt's attorney, Tim Moore. Merritt shot Walker once in the stomach and never tried to shoot the girl who was in the room with him, Moore argued. The lack of gun play illustrated Merritt's lack of murderous intent, according to Moore.
And during an interview with Mansfield police, Merritt explained that the shooting must have been an accident, Moore said.
"He said, 'My finger must have been on the trigger, but I don't remember pulling the trigger,' " Moore said, quoting from a videotaped police interview with Merritt that was shown to the jury during the trial.
Moore said he did not call any witnesses to testify during the trial.
But Bill Vassar, Tarrant County prosecutor, said that Merritt gets no credit for murdering just one person during the robbery.
Later in the videotaped interview, when the detective asked Merritt if he had anything to say to Walker's family, Merritt replied: "I'm sorry I was in that situation," according to Vassar.
"Merritt does not say I'm sorry I took the life of a father or I'm sorry I took the life of someone's son," Vassar told the jury during his closing arguments. "On July 27, 2016, a captain from the Mansfield Police Department went to Roberta Walker's house and told them what had happened."
"Never, ever, put an officer in that situation again, where they have to tell another parent that this man murdered their son," Vassar said.
The remaining adult co-defendants, Jalen Bell, Sean Robinson, Ariana Bharrat and Megan Holt, are in Tarrant County jail awaiting trial.
Holt, who testified in this trial for the state as part of a plea bargain arrangement, has been promised a 20-year-sentence in exchange for her testimony in this and other prosecutions relating to this case, according to court records.