An Upper Darby man who had been accused of murdering his girlfriend, a 21-year-old Temple University student, then staging the scene to look like a suicide, was convicted by a Philadelphia jury Tuesday of first-degree murder.
Brandon Meade, 30, was sentenced to life in prison immediately after his conviction on counts of murder and possessing an instrument of crime.
The courtroom was filled with his supporters as well as those for the victim, Agatha Hall, a Ghanaian immigrant who was studying at Temple. Relatives and friends of both wept quietly as the jurors delivered the verdict.
"This has torn my family apart," Hall's aunt Agatha Badio told Common Pleas Court Judge Rose DeFino-Nastasi before Meade received his sentence.
Hall's body was found early Aug. 31, 2015, in the bedroom of her North Philadelphia apartment, with a gunshot wound to the head and a 9mm handgun beside her torso. In addition to the bullet found in her body, another was found in the wall above her bed, according to testimony during the weeklong trial.
Assistant District Attorney Andrew Notaristefano said the evidence showed that Meade shot Hall after discovering she had been talking on the phone to another man, then altered the scene to make it appear as if Hall had shot herself.
"The defendant, in a jealous rage, killed his girlfriend," Notaristefano said during closing arguments Tuesday. "He snapped."
Defense attorney Evan Hughes sought to point out that Hall had been depressed from recent deaths in her family, and told jurors that she had tried to kill herself by overdosing on medication just two weeks before she died.
Police also initially believed that Hall's death was a suicide, Hughes pointed out, and he argued that investigators manufactured evidence to fit their new theory once the case was ruled a homicide.
"This is a suicide that happened behind a closed door, and that's all it ever was," he said during closing arguments.
The jury of eight men and four women evidently disagreed, reaching a verdict Tuesday after about three hours of deliberations.
With no eyewitnesses to the crime, much of the testimony during trial centered on scientific interpretations about the path and impact of the bullet that killed Hall.
Notaristefano said the shot - which struck Hall on the top left side of her forehead - must have been fired from at least four inches above her head, making suicide nearly impossible.
He also said the evidence showed that Meade encountered Hall's roommates while fleeing. In an ill-conceived attempt to cover his tracks - and bolster the idea that Hall had shot herself - Meade returned to the apartment with them, went back into Hall's room alone, fired a shot into her bedroom wall, and came out acting hysterically, a performance he hoped would give him an alibi, Notaristefano said.
Meade, dressed Tuesday in a gray suit with a white shirt and gray tie, dropped his head and sighed as the verdict was read. He declined to comment before he was sentenced.
Escorting Hall's family and friends out of the courtroom after the case ended, Notaristefano said: "Justice was served, and I just hope [Hall] can rest in peace."