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Hung jury on murder counts

By Staff | May 8, 2009

Participant? Yes. Murderer? Undecided.
Jurors in Roderick Washington’s double homicide case convicted the Cape Coral teenager and former Cash Feenz member on Friday of a pair of aggravated battery charges, which could bring him a maximum 30 years in prison.
But they were deadlocked on a pair each of murder and kidnapping charges, drawing a mistrial on the counts and sparing the 19-year-old a guaranteed life sentence in prison.
Prosecutors declined to say if they intend to re-file charges or if they will accept the outcome.
Family members of the victims appeared puzzled at the outcome, and they showed little emotion as they were ushered out of the courtroom.
Washington appeared relieved, and he gave family and friends a thumbs-up as they filed out of the courtroom. His family welcomed the verdict.
“I look at it as a blessing,” his father, Rickey Washington, said. “They didn’t find him guilty of first-degree murder.”
Jurors seemed tired and tense after a second day of deliberations, a day that included several outward signs of the panel’s deadlock and disagreement. The forewoman wiped away tears as Washington was read the verdict, and she shook her head as the panel was dismissed.
Sentencing is scheduled for June 22.
Washington was charged in the 2006 Cash Feenz killings, in which 18-year-old Alexis Sosa and his nephew, Jeffrey Sosa, 14, were beaten, cut with knives and shot by a gang of teenagers at an alcohol- and drug-laden Cape Coral house party. Prosecutors said Washington held a gun on the Sosas, perceived enemies of the group, as they were tortured.
Washington is the second member of the group to go to trial. Ashley Toye, 20, was sentenced to life in prison after a March 2007 conviction. Three other teenagers, including alleged ringleader Kemar Johnston, 22, await trial. Another five participants agreed to plea deals with prosecutors in exchange for their testimony.
That testimony was crucial to the state’s case, as it placed Washington in Johnston’s kitchen, holding a rifle over the Sosas.
Washington’s defense hinged on the same witnesses. Defense attorney Paul Sullivan attacked the character and motives of the group, calling the party-goers “losers,” and pointing to their drug use. The defense never called a witness, and Washington never took the stand.
“I’m glad it’s over and done,” Sullivan said, following the verdict. “It’d be nice to have a complete decision.”
Juror deliberations, at a day-and-a-half long, eclipsed the testimony portion of the trial, which occupied Wednesday. The first sign of deadlock came when a pair of jurors, a man and a woman, asked to speak with Judge Thomas S. Reese about problems in the jury room.
The judge and both parties met with both, individually, before deliberations resumed.
Ninety minutes later, jurors asked Reese if all verdicts should be the same or each could be approached individually. Reese re-read a section of his jury instructions in which he emphasized jurors must consider each count separately.
The panel returned four hours later with the incomplete verdicts. Eight women and four men comprised the jury.
In a way, Friday’s outcome was the most positive for the courtroom, which was stacked with deputies anticipating a verdict that could set off either side. The two families exchanged heated words in a hallway confrontation on Thursday. Deputies kept each clan separated on Friday.
Washington faced two counts each of first degree murder, kidnapping and aggravated battery with a deadly weapon. A conviction on either murder count would have carried a mandatory life sentence with no parole, and each kidnapping charge carried a maximum life sentence.
The latter counts, of which Washington was convicted, each carry a maximum 15-year sentence.
Before he was returned to jail, Washington’s handcuffs were removed and he was allowed to hug his parents. As he embraced both, tears could be seen in his eyes.
“Tears of joy,” his father told him.