After two previous mistrials and two weeks of testimony, a DeKalb County jury cleared a brother and sister of the attempted murder and robbery of a shopkeeper in 2014.
The convoluted case had plenty of twists, said Stone Mountain solo Robert Kenner Jr., who took over the defense of Andre Spriggs after his original lawyer was disbarred. Amanda Spriggs, his sister, was also found not guilty on Nov. 2.
There was also a matter of a cellphone “selfie” video that Spriggs took of himself brandishing a gun and discussing whether he should spend his time working, selling drugs or “just straight robbing” people. The judge excluded that evidence, a ruling upheld by the Georgia Court of Appeals.
Kenner said the jury indicated it split 9-3 to convict both defendants in its initial vote but returned not guilty verdicts after deliberating into the afternoon.
Kenner said jurors told him they felt great sympathy for store clerk Rafique Makani, who was shot in the head and can longer speak in complete sentences or move his right arm. He now must walk with a cane.
“I spoke with jurors after the trial and they indicated that many of the jurors were driven by emotions, and that is why they first voted guilty,” Kenner said.
Amanda Spriggs was represented by Atlanta solo Nicole Fegan, who said the trial was emotional for the jury and the defendants, who were in tears when the jury announced it had a verdict.
After the trial, as they stood in the hallway, Fegan said “a juror came out and said, ‘this is your second chance to do right in life. You can’t get your time back, but you can can be with your family and do the right thing.’”
DeKalb District Attorney Sherry Boston said her office firmly believed the case needed to be tried to a verdict.
“We are disappointed with the outcome of this trial. We strongly believe in our case and in our victim; which is why we prosecuted the case three separate times,” Boston said in an emailed statement.
“This victim suffered at the hands of an armed robber and is lucky to be alive,” she said. “In this case, and in every case we bring to trial, our goal is to seek justice for victims and their families by presenting evidence that proves the charges beyond a reasonable doubt. ”
The case began with an early morning robbery at a Decatur convenience store on Sept. 2, 2014. An armed male suspect in a hoodie entered the store and Amanda Spriggs, an employee, allowed him into the secured cashier’s area. The store’s video system recorded the man ordering Makani to kneel before shooting him in the head and grabbing a handful of cash.
Amanda Spriggs called 911, but investigators became suspicious of her actions and description of the robber and charged her with obstruction a few weeks later.
They then checked her cellphone and saw that she was communicating with her brother, Andre Spriggs, right before the robbery. The investigation later revealed that Andre’s phone had connected to a cell tower near the store at about the time of the robbery, Kenner said.
Text messages between the siblings further convinced officers that they planned the robbery, Kenner said.
Both were arrested in January 2015 and charged with attempted murder, armed robbery, aggravated assault, aggravated battery and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony.
Prosecutors filed a notice of intent to introduce two videos from Andre Spriggs’ cellphone into evidence to indicate his “intent, knowledge, plan, motive, opportunity, and preparation” for the robbery.
According to the appellate order, Spriggs appeared in the first video with a handgun, saying “I sit back and think, man, of the ways I can make money. Shit. Nine to five, selling dope, or just straight robbing n* * * * * *.”
In the second profanity-laced recording, Spriggs said, “I don’t give a f* * *. I’ll blow your f* * *ing head off, you hear me. Straight like that.”
Superior Court Judge Gail Flake refused to let the videos in as evidence, ruling prosecutors failed to provide any evidence as to when or why they were made or that they were “linked to the indicted incident in any way.”
Flake ruled the videos would be unduly prejudicial, and in 2016 the state Court of Appeals agreed.
Amanda Spriggs spent 1.5 years in jail before being granted bond, Kenner said. Andre Spriggs bonded out after two years.
Kenner came aboard last year after Andre Spriggs’ then-lawyer, Morris Fair Jr., was disbarred.
The case first went to trial in October 2017 and ended in a mistrial after the jurors announced they were deadlocked, Kenner said.
After the defense and state agreed to the mistrial, it was revealed the panel had convicted Amanda Spriggs on the attempted murder and armed robbery charges but could not agree on the rest, Kenner said. They had voted 8-4 to convict Andre Spriggs.
Following a second trial in March, the jury deadlocked 8-4 on a guilty verdict for both defendants, Keller said.
The final trial was prosecuted by a new team of DeKalb Assistant District Attorneys Brian Henderson and Shannon Hodder.
Fegan said it took the jury about four hours to acquit.
She said her impression was that the jurors “just didn’t think the state had enough evidence; they just had pieces and not wholes.”
Boston said she accepted the jury’s ruling.
“Despite our best efforts, there are times where a jury may disagree and not render a guilty verdict,” said Boston. “While we may not agree with it, we respect their decision. We will not be deterred and will continue to work hard and advocate for our victims and their families in the pursuit of justice.”
Kenner noted that the verdict came just one day after his cousin Maurice Kenner, an attorney with the DeKalb County Conflict Defender’s office, successfully defended one of two co-defendants accused of killing a drug dealer.
Maurice Kenner said his client, Patrick Croskey, and friend Kryshlar Maxwell went to the home of Antimothy “Fat Jaws” Davis to buy a small amount of marijuana to celebrate Croskey’s birthday.
Croskey and his companion had bought pot there before, Kenner said, but this time neither Davis nor his assistant—both of whom had been smoking crack—recognized them and turned them away.
As they were leaving, Davis pulled out a gun and opened fire. Croskey and Maxwell returned fire, killing Davis.
“Davis’ assistant testified Croskey and Maxwell did not look like they used drugs and did not recognize them from the area,” Maurice Kenner said. “Because drug sales were in a slump, it was believed Davis and his assistant attempted to rob Croskey and Maxwell.”
The pair were indicted for charges including malice murder, felony murder and aggravated assault. Both were tried together, with Maxwell represented by DeKalb Public Defender Michael Sclafani.
Both argued self-defense and were acquitted on Nov. 1, Kenner said.