In an unusual move, a Common Pleas Court judge cleared the courtroom of spectators yesterday before allowing a jury to announce a guilty verdict against three of four Strawberry Mansion men accused of paralyzing a 7-year-old boy in 2006.
The boy, Jabar Wright, who was 6 at the time, was shot during an ambush of his grandfather, authorities said. The case spawned tensions both in the hallways of the Criminal Justice Center as well as in the neighborhood surrounding 29th and Westmont Streets, where the shooting occurred.
Donte Rollins, 20; Raheem Collins, 24; and Chris Powell, 19, were found guilty of four counts of attempted murder, aggravated assault and firearms offenses.
A fourth defendant, Kevin Norris, 28, was acquitted because he could not be placed at the crime scene. Norris is currently serving time in a federal penitentiary on unrelated gun charges, said Assistant District Attorney Deborah Nixon.
Jabar was wounded Jan. 28, 2006, when four men stepped out of the shadows and opened fire on a Pontiac Bonneville carrying him and his grandfather, Benjamin Wright, 42; Wright's wife; and another child.
Jabar, in the backseat, was the only one seriously injured. Within days, police charged the four suspects.
"These young men could spend the rest of their lives in prison," said Nixon. They will be sentenced April 17 by Judge Rayford Means.
Jabar's mother, Alicia, dressed in a brown scarf and brown shawl, sobbed as the verdicts were read.
"Jabar finally has justice," she said.
Her son, paralyzed from the neck down, has flatlined three times since the shooting, she said. Because of his medical needs, she said, he will never again be able to live with his family.
She said the three men found guilty would now get a small taste of Jabar's own imprisonment. "I get a chance to see these boys feel what I and my son have felt," she said.
She hugged and clasped hands with police officers and court officials. "This has not just been a trial," she said. "It has become a family."
Means indicated that the extra security precautions were taken because of threats against Jabar's grandfather.
" 'If they're found guilty, we're going to blast him,' " Nixon quoted a caller as having said.
When he ordered spectators out of the courtroom, Means said that "whatever way the verdict goes, it's going to be fallout. This is a case of hard feelings that will carry on to Westmont no matter what the verdict."