17-year-old guilty in '07 gun slaying

COVINGTON - After several hours of deliberations, jury members returned a verdict of guilty on all counts late Wednesday afternoon in the murder trial of Trevarius Dexter White, 17, who shot and killed 29-year-old Kawasikis Shawnte Ricks in the Hidden Pines subdivision during a drug deal in June 2007.

In an emotional statement to the court following the verdict, Ricks' aunt, Elizabeth Ricks, said that her nephew "wasn't a perfect child, but he was a loving child."

"As a Christian, I have to forgive (White) for what he took from me," she said.

In response, White said, "I want to tell the family that I'm sorry. I didn't mean to take your folk's life."

As White was led from the courtroom, several members of his family and friends broke down in tears and sobbed in the hallway of the Newton County Judicial Center.

The trial began Tuesday, with defense attorney John Strauss and Chief Assistant District Attorney Layla Zon making their opening statements, followed by the presentation of evidence, including testimony from White's co-defendants: Terrance Tremaine Reid, 22; Clarence Lamar Benton, 18; Brandon Lenard Hudnal, 21; and Marino Tuggle, 17. All four had pleaded guilty earlier in the week to various charges, including conspiracy to commit murder and armed robbery in a plea agreement with the District Attorney's Office.

From the very beginning, Zon said, the drug deal was to be a double-cross. Ricks set up a drug buy through an associate, 23-year-old Justin Hall, arranging to purchase 20 pounds of marijuana for a price of $11,000 from Reid. Neither party had any intention of living up to the deal, Zon said, with Ricks arriving at the buy with counterfeit money and Reid bringing less than a pound of marijuana.

Earlier in the evening of June 18, 2007, according to testimony, both parties aborted an attempt to follow through with the deal, splitting up when Reid's group became spooked.

Believing that one of Ricks' associates might have a gun, Reid's party traveled to White's home to get a shotgun before returning to Hidden Pines Drive to complete the deal.

The group parked their vehicle on a back road, and Benton and White walked to the rear of the home designated as the meeting spot.

Upon encountering Hall and Ricks, White raised the shotgun and pointed it at them, witnesses said. Both young men turned and ran, and White fired, hitting Ricks in the back of the head, killing him.

Upon returning to the automobile, witnesses said on the stand that White told them, "I burned him."

In his closing arguments, Strauss contended that the location of Ricks' body in the yard, the lack of testing of an empty shell found at the scene, the location of a pistol on the property, and a recording of a 911 call concerning the shooting raised questions concerning White's identification as the shooter.

He also stressed that White's actions that night were in self defense, based on the fact that at least one member of his party believed Ricks had a gun and may have been preparing to "draw on him."

Zon, however, dismissed those assertions as merely tactics to draw attention from the facts of the case.

"It was a botched robbery that ended up in murder," she said. "This man shot Mr. Ricks as he was running for his life.

"Do you know why (White) shot and killed (Ricks)?" she asked the jury in her closing statements. "Because he could. ... Do any of you really sense that (the defendants) are sorry for what they've done? No. They're sorry they got caught. ... That's what is in his heart."

Following the reading of the verdict, Superior Court Judge John Ott expressed dismay at not knowing the answers to why certain segments of our society promote such acts of violence, calling the events leading up to Wednesday's verdict a "tragedy for both families."

"Mr. White has chosen a course of conduct that will have a tremendous impact on the remainder of his life," he said. "Somehow, the cycle has got to be broken."

Ott continued the proceedings to a later date, when White will be sentenced on charges of murder, armed robbery, aggravated assault and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony.

Colin Stewart can be reached at colin.stewart@rockdalecitizen.com.