Jury finds Dejuan Hammond guilty of murder in witness death case
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- More than five years after Troya Sheckles was gunned down while sitting with a friend in Shelby Park, the man charged with orchestrating what prosecutors described as a public "execution" was found guilty of murder by a Jefferson Circuit Court jury Thursday night.
Dejuan Hammond remained still, staring forward as a jury of six men and six women found he had murdered Sheckles in 2009 to prevent her from testifying against his younger brother, Lloyd, who was charged with killing Sheckles' boyfriend and two other men.
"We're thrilled to be getting justice for Troya," said a Sheckles' family member, who declined to give her name. "They're not hunting me down," she said while walking away from the media.
Hammond, who was also found guilty of intimidating a witness, turned to his family after the verdict and smiled, nodding his head. "What are you crying for?" he said to one woman as he was taken away from the courtroom.
His family declined to comment, hiding their faces from cameras as they left. When a reporter asked if they would like to say anything, one woman responded, "Why, so you can make him look bad again?"
The sentencing phase will begin Friday morning, with Hammond facing a possibility of life in prison.
The case was a huge win for the Jefferson Commonwealth's Attorney's Office, which has been heavily criticized for their handling of the high-profile slaying, including repeatedly not turning over evidence, causing mistrials and delays.
"We're thrilled to get justice for Troya," Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Elizabeth Jones Brown said. Sheckles' family applauded her.
Defense attorneys Ted Shouse and Annie O'Connell declined to comment until after the sentencing.
The jury, which found Hammond not guilty of providing a firearm to a juvenile, asked the judge several questions during their more than eight hours of deliberation. A couple of times, the jury sent word that one juror was a holdout on one charge and they were at an impasse.
Each time, Judge Angela McCormick Bisig sent them back to deliberate further.
Earlier in the day, Jones Brown told jurors in her closing arguments that Sheckles had "reluctantly agreed to do her civic duty" and testify against Lloyd Hammond and "for that she died."
"It was an execution," Jones Brown said.
But as he has done throughout the two-week trial, Shouse railed against prosecutors and police in his closing arguments, saying the investigation was botched from the beginning and throughout the last five years, a glaring stain on police and prosecutors.
"This case is about damage control and tunnel vision," Shouse said, alleging lead Officer Roy Stalvey focused on Hammond from the beginning, ignoring other potential leads and suspects. "This was an extraordinarily unprofessional investigation."
Shouse said there is no physical evidence tying Hammond to the crime and witnesses called by prosecutors often changed their story or refused to testify. He said they were bullied and coerced by Stalvey and former Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Tom Van De Rostyne, threatened into saying what the prosecution needed to prove its case.
Jones Brown acknowledged that "these are not the witnesses" prosecutors would choose, but they were the people Hammond hung around with and know what happened. The prosecution used statements some witnesses made to police when they changed their stories during the trial.
As for witnesses changing their stories when they were called to testify, Jones Brown said to jurors, "Wonder why?"
Jones Brown said witnesses told police the truth in the privacy and safety of the interview room at the Louisville Metro Police Department but "didn't want to come in here" in front of Hammond and "testify to that."
And she denied that Stalvey or Van De Rostyne threatened anybody, playing clips for jurors of two key witnesses calmly describing how Hammond sent Steven Pettway into the park to kill Sheckles and then disposed of the weapon immediately after.
Jones Brown said snippets of clips the defense played in which Stalvey is yelling, cursing and throwing his notebook while questioning witnesses were "taken out of context."
Previously, Bolin had reluctantly admitted to police that Hammond sent her into Shelby Park to look for a woman and report back to him shortly before Sheckles was killed. She has said she also overheard Hammond talking about the murder and sent her into the park after the shooting to see who was killed.
During this trial, however, Bolin gave Hammond an alibi and repeatedly said she couldn't recall her previous statements to police. She told prosecutors Hammond was with her at the mall shopping for shoes on the day Sheckles was murdered.
"It's not an easy job to give up your boyfriend on a murder case," Jones Brown said of Bolin. And Bolin only said she was "threatened" when she came into court to testify against Hammond, Jones Brown said.
Bolin's initial statement to police 2009, that she was at the mall with Hammond when Sheckles was murdered, wasn't turned over by prosecutors until earlier this year.
Shouse accused Van De Rostyne of intentionally not turning over the statement "because it was bad for the commonwealth."
"The things that have gone on in this case - undisclosed reports, missing evidence - don't happen in good cases," Shouse told the jury. "This is a bad case."
Van De Rostyne testified this week that he made a mistake in not turning over the summary but that it was not intentional.
And Jones Brown reiterated that while there was a mistake made, it was not relevant to the murder and jurors didn't need to focus on it.
The Commonwealth's Attorney's Office is currently conducting an internal investigation into Van De Rostyne's handling of the case, a fact Shouse told jurors they could use "to assess his credibility and motivation."
He added: "This whole case is about keeping the commonwealth's ship afloat."
Shouse says prosecutors are relying on the "where there's smoke, there's fire" argument.
"This is how innocent people go to prison," Shouse said. "We do not guess people into the penitentiary."
During earlier testimony, it was revealed that one witness, Ike Kinnison, told police he saw both Hammond and Pettway after the murder and heard them discuss what happened.
Pettway was found guilty of murder and sentenced to 55 years in prison last year. His case has been appealed.
Prosecutors have said Hammond sent Pettway to kill Sheckles because she had agreed to testify against Lloyd Hammond, who was facing murder charges in the June 2006 deaths of Terrell Cherry and William Sawyers, Sheckles' boyfriend.
When Sheckles didn't show up to testify against Lloyd Hammond, his case was dismissed. When Sheckles was found and brought into court, swearing to reappear, Hammond was re-indicted.
The Hammonds realized, Jones Brown said, that she was the "key to the whole case." She was murdered weeks later.
Jones Brown referred to Kinnison's statement that he heard Dejuan Hammond and Lloyd Hammond discussing the possibility of Sheckles testifying against Lloyd. Kinnison said Dejuan said, "I'll take care of it."
Kinnison denied all of this during his testimony during the trial, when he "gets to the courtroom and sits across from Hammond," Jones Brown said.
Jones Brown also referred to testimony from Don'Teze Hurt, Sheckles' former boyfriend, who told jurors that he was sitting with Sheckles in Shelby Park when a man wearing a red bandanna approached them from behind. Sheckles yelled for Hurt to watch out and took off running. The man, who Hurt later identified as Pettway, gunned down Sheckles as she fled. He stopped, pointed his gun at Hurt but for some reason didn't fire, Hurt testified.
"This is somebody who wanted to kill Troya Sheckles and Troya Sheckles alone," said Jones Brown.
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