TAMPA — The mother of Devante Dallas, an 18-year-old senior killed at a 2010 Durant High School graduation party, said a jury delivered justice Thursday, but not for her slain son.
After deliberating six hours, the jury found Khayri McCray, now 19, guilty of two counts of attempted second-degree murder, each punishable by up to 30 years in prison.
Those convictions were for shooting two other people at the party. The jury cleared McCray of shooting Dallas because the bullet that killed him came from someone else's gun. Another shooter has never been arrested, although at least two possible suspects were named during the weeklong trial.
"I'm satisfied with today's verdict," said Sunceray Dean, Dallas' mother. "It's justice for the others. I can live with that."
But she said she still hopes her son's killer will one day be caught.
"Other people need to be brought to justice," agreed the father of a graduating senior who rented the Winthrop Barn and Theater in Riverview for his son's party on May 22, 2010.
The father, Jeffrey Thomas Sr., was shot in the back after at least 15 youths from Tampa's Progress Village crashed the party just after midnight and got into a fight with the party-goers. A second man, De Ron Richardson, 21, was also wounded.
The bullet that struck Thomas lodged against his spine, two millimeters from his spinal cord. Doctors were unable to remove it. Thomas has to carry a doctor's note to get through security screens at airports.
"I'm happy with the verdict," he said Thursday, "but there's still the matter of the young man who lost his life."
McCray was the only one arrested. He was originally charged with Dallas' murder, until ballistics tests ruled out a .32-caliber pistol he was said to be carrying.
His attorney, Patrick Leduc, called his arrest a rush to judgment and suggested witnesses had mistaken him for another youth from Progress Village. He argued as well that a husky man in dreadlocks known as "Big Ron," had actually killed Dallas. He compared the prosecution to "the man behind the curtain" in The Wizard of Oz. He called the case "absurdity, stupidity and insanity."
Assistant State Attorney Joel Elsea conceded other guns were fired that night, but said, "It doesn't matter if other people were shooting, too." Several witnesses said they saw McCray fire into the entrance of the Barn, where Thomas and Richardson stood.
Hillsborough Circuit Judge Debra Behnke scheduled sentencing for April 24.
John Barry can be reached at email@example.com or 813-226-3383.