SAVANNAH, Georgia – Three men were convicted of murder Saturday in the death of a 19-year-old white debutante who was shot in the back during a mugging last Christmas Eve, sparking outrage among civic leaders who know her family.
Michael Thorpe, 26, Webster Wilson, 25, and Kevin Huckabee, 21, face automatic sentences of life in prison. All three are black.
Hours after she was presented as a debutante at the city's Christmas Cotillion, Jennifer Ross was shot in the back early Dec. 24 in Savannah's downtown historic district when muggers ambushed her and three of her friends.
She died New Year's Day at a hospital where her father is an executive.
Prosecutors said Thorpe shot Ross in the back after she refused to give up her purse, while Wilson pistol-whipped Brett Finely, one of Ross' friends, and held him at gunpoint. Huckabee was accused of driving the getaway car.
Defense lawyers rested their case without calling witnesses, but seized on statements by one eyewitness, Ross' friend Brannen Miles, who told police one of the attackers was white.
The prosecution case hinged mostly on Thorpe's uncle, 25-year-old Sean Thorpe, who was granted immunity from prosecution in exchange for his testimony. He said he set out with his nephew, Wilson and Huckabee on the morning of the attack looking for an easy target to rob.
Jurors found the three not guilty of separate malice murder charges, which would have meant that they had set out with intent to commit the crime.
In addition to Sean Thorpe's testimony, friends of the defendants testified the three men boasted that they committed the crime.
Defense lawyers told jurors the witnesses could not be trusted because they sought cash rewards or legal deals to settle their own criminal charges.
Jurors heard six days of testimony and legal arguments before beginning deliberations Thursday evening.