Man Convicted of 4 Alexander Family Murders
A Los Angeles gang member was convicted Thursday of four counts of first-degree murder in the mistaken-identity shootings of four relatives of retired professional football star Kermit Alexander.
Horace Burns, 20, sat motionless as the jury--which must next decide whether Burns receives the death penalty or life in prison without possibility of parole--announced its verdict to Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Aurelio Munoz.
Twelve misty-eyed members of the Alexander family, several of whom appeared daily since the trial began April 1, embraced each other outside the courtroom moments after the lanky defendant was escorted back to jail.
“I got a beautiful birthday present today,” said Joan Marie Alexander, 37, whose mother was killed in a hail of gunfire. “But this is just the beginning.”
Burns is one of three gang members charged with the execution-style slayings last Aug. 31 of the former UCLA and Los Angeles Rams defensive back’s mother, Ebora, 58; his sister Dietra, 24, and nephews Damani Garner, 13, and Damon Bonner, 8.
Witnesses said that Burns waited outside the Alexander home in a van while fellow gang members Tiequon Aundray Cox, 18, and Darren Charles Williams, 24, burst into the South-Central Los Angeles home and opened fire.
Williams faces a pretrial hearing today, and Cox’s trial is due to begin June 11. Both also face the death penalty if convicted.
The victims have been described by authorities as innocent people who died only because the defendants attacked the wrong house.
At various stages of the trial, the prosecutor, Deputy Dist. Atty. Sterling E. Norris, suggested that the killers had intended to retaliate for a narcotics-related shoot-out or had been engaged in a contract killing.
Norris called the verdict “a message to the gangs of Los Angeles County that not only have the police gone to the fullest to prosecute, but the community itself is tired of gang warfare and of being ruled by the gangs on the streets. Justice indeed, for society and the Alexander family, was done today.”
During the trial, Norris--who said he will seek the death penalty for Burns when jurors return for the penalty phase June 3--repeatedly compared the defendants to Nazi storm troopers.
“These were execution murders done very much indeed (like Nazi storm troopers) . . . walking in and executing a whole household,” Norris said after the verdict was read.
Attorneys for Burns--who had taken the witness stand to testify that he was an unwitting accomplice--refused comment on the verdict.
The eight-woman, four-man jury rendered its decision one day after resuming deliberations after one of the original panel members was dismissed.
The jury began deliberating May 9 but ran into difficulties when juror George Dowell, 72, asked to be excused, saying he could not tolerate “the continual hassle and the nit-picking.”
Dowell, who threatened to walk out of the jury room without permission, was finally replaced by an alternate on Wednesday after submitting a doctor’s note to Munoz stating that he was suffering from hypertension.
Since the jurors have not yet concluded their work, Munoz warned them Thursday to refrain from discussing the verdict.
Norris refused to speculate on their deliberations, although he noted that a letter Burns wrote to defendant Cox, which was intercepted by a sheriff’s deputy in the County Jail last month, was “very incriminating.”
The hand-scrawled note--replete with misspellings--included a promise that if Cox testified on Burns’ behalf and helped him win his freedom, Burns would “make sure know witness shows up” at Cox’s trial.
Burns’ attorney, Gerald Lenoir, described the letter as a desperate attempt by a frightened, unsophisticated youth to persuade Cox to testify on his behalf.
Witnesses included two women who testified that they were in the van with Burns and his fellow defendants. The women, Norris said, had not known about the impending murders.