Durham, N.C. — A Durham County jury on Thursday found a Texas man guilty of first-degree murder in the shooting death of a Pennsylvania teenager nearly two years ago.
Gabriel James Gamez, 24, of San Antonio, was automatically sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the June 23, 2011, death of Darrell Turner Jr.
Turner, 18, was with a group of high school football players from the Pittsburgh area when he was struck by a bullet in the back that pierced his heart during a confrontation in a parking lot.
A teammate, Thomas Woodson, then 15, was shot in the leg.
The jury deliberated for more than 12 hours over three days before reaching its verdict Thursday afternoon.
Gamez was also found guilty of five counts of assault with a deadly weapon. He was found not guilty on five counts of attempted murder.
Turner's parents were pleased by the verdicts.
"When you have the truth on your side and you have the Lord on your side, you don't have to worry about it," Darrell Turner Sr. said.
"God is good," his mother, Rosemarie Turner, said.
She said the verdict brought relief, but little comfort considering all that she has missed – "his smile, his hugs, all of that, because we were around each other all the time. We played games together in the house. We did a lot of stuff together."
This week, her son would have celebrated a birthday.
The healing process has been eased some with the birth of their daughter Daria.
"You kind of look at her face, and she looks a lot like her older brother when she was this age," Darrell Turner Sr. said. "She keeps us going."
Gamez's mother did not want to talk Thursday afternoon but said Wednesday that she couldn't imagine her son spending the rest of his life in prison.
His defense attorney gave the court notice that they plan to appeal.
Gamez, a security guard who had been in Durham for his grandmother's funeral, testified Monday that he drew his gun and began firing at the group in self-defense after he thought he was going to be shot.
He denied trying to hurt anyone, saying he was just trying to defend himself.
But prosecutors argued that Gamez was the aggressor and that the teens – on their way to a football camp in Florida – did nothing wrong. The shooting wasn't in self-defense, they said, because Turner was shot from behind.
His teammates testified that they encountered Gamez on their walk back to their hotel from dinner and that he cursed them with a racial epithet.
They started running, they said, when Gamez pulled his shirt up to show a gun in his waistband. Then, they heard gunshots.
Prosecutors offered no direct motive for the shooting but suggested race could have been a factor.
A restaurant employee testified last week that Gamez told her he would shoot any black person who said anything to him or his family. Turner was black.