A Philadelphia jury found Dimitrius Brown guilty of third-degree murder and weapons offenses in the 2015 shooting death of 14-year-old Duval “DJ” DeShields after Brown confronted the teenager about brandishing a BB pistol at younger North Philadelphia teens.
The Common Pleas Court jury of 10 women and two men returned the verdict early Friday afternoon after about 12 hours of deliberations, after getting the case late Wednesday.
Brown, 20, showed no reaction when the jury returned its verdict. Judge Barbara A. McDermott set Sept. 22 for sentencing.
DeShields’ slaying stunned his community, where he was known for his dancing and love of music, and for how he handled the 2013 death of his mother from cancer and his older sister’s death from the disease a year later.
Brown had faced a mandatory life sentence without chance of parole if he had been convicted of a stiffer count of first-degree murder – a planned, malicious killing. Instead, the jury, which at one point told the judge it was deadlocked, found him guilty of third-degree murder after Friday’s lunch break.
A 32-year-old juror, speaking after the panel was dismissed, said the jurors initially were deadlocked Thursday afternoon because one juror was not convinced Brown was the shooter. At that time, 10 jurors, including the 32-year-old, thought Brown was guilty of murder. The remaining juror was undecided.
When they returned Friday morning, the undecided juror agreed Brown was guilty of murder and the juror who hadn’t been sure if he was the shooter then also agreed, said the juror, who did not want his name published, saying he feared retribution. The jurors then debated whether Brown was guilty of first- or third-degree murder, he said.
In the end, they decided to convict Brown of third-degree murder because “we could all see the scenario where he may not have intended to shoot or shoot to kill,” the juror said. The juror said he initially wanted to convict on first-degree, but “as we discussed it, things that were said allowed me to imagine a scenario where this could have been an unintentional shooting.”
The brief trial – just 2½ days of testimony – offered a sobering portrait of how easy access to guns on the city streets can fatally elevate what otherwise might have been a fist fight.
Two witnesses — a 16-year-old juvenile and a 20-year-old woman — identified Brown, whom they knew by his street name, “Meat,” as the gunman who fired into the back of DeShields’ head as he tried to run from the Oct. 12, 2015, confrontation at 10th and Thompson Streets in North Philadelphia.
Both witnesses described DeShields’ apparent fascination with his BB pistol, which he displayed sticking out of his waistband and brandished, and said not everyone thought it was a toy.
Earlier that day, witnesses testified, DeShields had pulled out the BB pistol to break up a fight among teenage girls and showed it to a younger teenage boy.
Those incidents apparently led to the fatal confrontation with Brown, who a witness said walked up to DeShields and demanded: “What makes you think it’s cool for you to pull a gun on one of my young bulls?”
Witnesses said DeShields pulled up his shirt to show Brown the pistol in his waistband. Brown grabbed DeShields’ arm, DeShields broke free and turned and ran, and Brown fired once, hitting DeShields in the back of the head.
The .38-caliber revolver Brown allegedly used was never recovered. DeShields’ plastic BB pistol fell from his clothing as he was lifted onto a gurney at Hahnemann University Hospital.
Brown, who was arrested Oct. 16, 2015, in a city courtroom where he was about to be tried for theft, initially told McDermott that he wanted to testify in his defense but changed his mind at the last minute.
Defense attorney Benjamin Cooper presented one witness, Brown’s father, Kerry, who testified that he dropped his son off at a girlfriend’s house about 8:15 p.m. and waited outside until 8:45 p.m. before driving home.
Assistant District Attorney Allison Ruth challenged Brown’s purported alibi witnesses. She said his testimony would still give Brown time to be at the shooting scene. She also questioned why the elder Brown waited until July 2 before making his statement about that night.
“I had so much on my plate the last two years,” the defendant’s father testified. “It wasn’t a priority.”
The juror who spoke said no one on the panel believed the alibi. “We all believed he was there” at the shooting, the juror said.
Brown faces a maximum sentence of 28½ to 57 years in state prison when he is sentenced.
“It was just a senseless loss of a young life,” Ruth, the prosecutor, said after the verdicts.