Man acquitted of murder

Published 11:13 pm Thursday, December 8, 2011

A jury took less than 30 minutes on Thursday to acquit a Suffolk man of first-degree murder and eight other charges.

Randy Sherrod Copeland, 20, was freed by the panel of eight men and four women. He had been accused of providing the firearm used in the August 2010 murder of 18-year-old TyQuan Lewis.

“I think it’s the right verdict,” defense attorney James Broccoletti said. “It’s a classic, textbook case of reasonable doubt.”

Email newsletter signup

Lewis was gunned down on Walnut Street, near Booker T. Washington Elementary School, on Aug. 1, 2010. Another man, Dontaz Latray Wilkerson, already has been convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to 63 years.

Prosecutors relied solely on six witnesses who provided various stories of what happened that night. They told of hearing one side of phone conversations in the car, witnessing meetings without knowing what, if anything, was exchanged and, finally, the deadly shooting.

The chain of events began at the Bethlehem Ruritan clubhouse on Manning Road, where several fights broke out at a party. One of the fights involved Wilkerson and another man, which Lewis broke up.

Lewis and Wilkerson then left the party separately with friends. Witnesses who had been in the car with Wilkerson testified that he met up with Copeland on Division Street.

Prosecutors argued that was when Copeland gave Wilkerson the gun he used to kill Lewis.

“There’s only one possible reason to go to Division Street,” prosecutor Heather Shelton said. “If he had a gun at the Ruritan Club, there would have been shots fired and a dead man at the Ruritan Club.”

Once the two groups met in front of the school, Lewis and his companions stepped out of the car, and Wilkerson began shooting from across the street. One bullet struck Lewis in the jaw and lodged in the back of his neck, injuring several major arteries.

First responders testified he never regained consciousness or a pulse.

But Broccoletti capitalized on the variations in the witnesses’ stories and accused them of throwing Copeland under the bus to protect themselves. He also questioned the fact that the witnesses had several interviews with police during the course of more than a week before they implicated Copeland.

“What is this case about?” he asked the jury. “It’s about looking out for No. 1.”

Shelton said it is not unusual for witnesses to hide facts from police.

“We live in a world where people are afraid to talk to the police,” she said. “We’re asking you to look at all the evidence in its totality and use your common sense.”

Will Jamerson, lead prosecutor on the case, admitted it had a number of challenges.

“We had to deal with the credibility of the witnesses,” he said. “They said versions of six different stories.”

“In our minds, we have no doubt about what happened,” he continued. “But we convicted Dontaz Wilkerson, he’s got 60-some-odd years, and he was the shooter.”