TAMPA — Two years after seeing his brother fatally shot before him, Adrian Cherry says he will now sleep better.
A jury Friday found Tyree A. Jenkins, the man accused of killing 21-year-old Willie Cherry, guilty of first-degree felony murder. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole.
Jenkins, 22, shot Willie Cherry in the early hours of April 8, 2008, in a parking lot outside a gyro shop at 4004 E Hillsborough Ave. Willie Cherry had tried to intervene as Jenkins robbed Adrian.
The brothers had gone out to celebrate their birthdays the night of April 7. Willie Cherry had turned 21 two days earlier, and Adrian Cherry was going to turn 18 in two more.
On Thursday, Adrian Cherry, now 20, testified that Jenkins continued robbing him after shooting Willie Cherry. Jenkins later fled with three others in a red pickup truck after taking "a couple of dollars" and a ring, Adrian Cherry told jurors.
He told the jury he was "200 percent sure" Jenkins was the man.
And they believed him. After the nearly three-hour deliberation, jurors also found Jenkins guilty of robbery with a firearm.
Jenkins showed no emotion as his sentence was read. Once, he looked down and shook his head. Then, he quietly let a deputy handcuff him.
His attorney, Brian Gonzalez, said a retrial motion will be heard Friday. He said he plans to appeal the verdict.
Earlier in the day, prosecutor Ada Carmona urged jurors to use their common sense to weigh conflicting testimony, including that of witnesses who provided an alibi for Jenkins.
"How do you judge whether they're telling you the truth?" Carmona said. "Are they straight forward when they answer?"
In his closing remarks, Gonzalez argued his client was not present at the gyro shop that night. He said eyewitnesses who picked Jenkins out of a photo lineup were not to be trusted. Those who identified him in a surveillance video, he said, were mistaken or testifying for their own interests.
"It's grainy, it's questionable and it's nonsensical," Gonzalez said, referring to the incident as a "26-second blur." He suggested that Adrian Cherry, who was scared and focusing on the gun in his assailant's hand, likely made a mistake in recognizing the robber.
But Carmona disagreed.
"Why do we know Adrian Cherry is not mistaken?" she asked. "Twenty-six seconds may not be a big deal … but when you have a gun pointed at you … those 26 seconds are the longest 26 seconds in that man's life.
"In those 26 seconds, that face became embedded in his brain," she said, pointing at Jenkins. "And that is a face he will never forget."
Jenkins still faces two first-degree murder charges in the 2006 deaths of Wesley Chapel High School students Derek Pieper and Raymond Veluz in Pasco County. His co-defendant in that case, Luc Pierre-Charles, was convicted last year and sentenced to life in prison. Prosecutors were seeking the death penalty, as they are in Jenkins' case, which is still pending.
If Jenkins is found guilty in Pasco, his Hillsborough conviction could affect whether he gets the death penalty, said his Pasco attorney Bjorn Brunvand.
"It's another murder conviction — an aggravating circumstance," Brunvand said.
In cases involving co-defendants, state law dictates their sentences be proportional.
So with Pierre-Charles having received life in prison, Brunvand said he would argue Jenkins should get the same punishment.
He said he expects prosecutors will say Jenkins and Pierre-Charles are not similar because it has now been proved that Jenkins killed someone else.
After Friday's verdict, Willie Cherry's family members hugged one another and the prosecutors. They appeared pleased with the trial's outcome.
Adrian Cherry had a smile on his face.
How did it feel, a reporter asked him.
For a few seconds, he was quiet. Then, softly, he said: "Feel free now."
Staff writer Molly Moorhead contributed to this report. Nandini Jayakrishna can be reached at (813) 226-3383 or [email protected]