The question came down to intent vs. knowledge, and Juror No. 10 said it worked like this in a verdict Thursday that found D’Andre Leon Monroe guilty of second-degree murder – not first degree – in the shooting death of Aliyah Smith four years ago on Nedra Court:
“If I jump off a cliff in Acapulco, I know I could die if I do that,” said the juror, a 43-year-old insurance supervisor who did not give his name. “If I choose to do it anyway, and I die, it doesn’t mean I intended to commit suicide. It just means I did something stupid and dangerous, with the knowledge that it’s stupid and dangerous, and I did it anyway.”
Monroe’s own lawyer conceded the defendant stuck a 9 millimeter pistol outside a car window and fired it at an apartment window and struck Smith in the head in the early morning hours of Jan. 3, 2010, after a dozen youths sought to continue a fight that erupted earlier at a house party about a mile away.
Like jumping off an Acapulco cliff, firing a gun into an inhabited apartment was “stupid and dangerous,” the juror said the panel concluded. Stupid and dangerous, however, “does not mean you meant for that outcome to occur,” he said of the death of the 15-year-old girl.
Monroe, 22, is likely to be sentenced to 40 years to life in prison when he faces Sacramento Superior Court Judge Eugene L. Balonon on Sept. 26.
The same jury that convicted Monroe acquitted his co-defendant, Marcel Bullard Jr., of murder charges. Bullard also admittedly fired a gun into the air that night – and not at the apartment. He was convicted of the grossly negligent discharge of a firearm. An emotional Bullard wiped tears from his eyes after the verdict and told his defense attorney, Kenneth L. Rosenfeld, “Thank you.”
“He didn’t commit murder, and this jury said that, but my heart goes out to the family,” Rosenfeld said.
Rosenfeld said he will argue at the sentencing to have the negligent discharge conviction reduced to a misdemeanor.
Bullard, 22, had been charged with murder on an aiding and abetting theory. Deputy District Attorney Thien Ho said in his opening statement that Bullard, besides firing a gun on his own, cajoled Monroe into aiming at the house by telling him that the two of them were punks for only firing into the air in their first pass by the apartment on Nedra Court where Smith was staying. It also was alleged that Bullard had passed the gun to Monroe just before the fatal shot was fired.
“But the jury found that not to be true,” Rosenfeld said. As for the punks remark, the lawyer said, “Who knows who said what. I’m happy for my client, but we have not lost sight that a young girl is gone.”
Desiree McCarthy, the victim’s older sister, said she was happy with Thursday’s verdict, “but it’s never going to bring her back.”
“I know I will never have nieces and nephews, and that bothers me a lot,” McCarthy said. “She was just young and she had a lot going on. She could have been in college or something. It’s hard.”
Smith, whose nickname was “Lele,” lived in West Sacramento at the time of her death and attended River City High School. The night she was killed, she told her mother she was going to stay at a friend’s house in Sacramento, but wound up going with a different friend to the party at a vacant house on Belinda Way where she got into the fight.
According to the prosecution’s theory of the case, Smith became embroiled in a fistfight at the party with another girl. When the battle moved outside into the mud, somebody fired a shotgun into the air, and the crowd scattered while police swooped down. Smith left with two of her friends to their apartment on nearby Nedra Court, an enclosed complex with only one way in and out that is near Meadowview Road and 24th Street. The Nedra complex is nicknamed “The Trap.”
Two girls who had been involved in the fighting on Belinda Way apparently lost their cellphones and believed Smith stole them, authorities said. One of the girls called an older sister who was attending another party on Sacramento’s north side that also was being frequented by Monroe, Bullard and others. The two defendants and several other young people piled into a car and descended on Nedra Court to back up their friends, prosecutors said.
Girls in the rival group demanded that Smith come outside and fight some more. Prosecutors said when she stayed inside, Monroe and Bullard around 1:20 a.m. fired gunshots into the air before Monroe directed a bullet toward the apartment that killed Aliyah.
Monroe’s lawyer, Jan Karowsky, conceded before the trial that his client fired the bullet that killed the girl. He expressed disappointment, however, with the jury’s verdict.
“We believe that there was no murder,” Karowsky said. “The jury disagreed. We respect the jury’s verdict.”
A total of 12 youths initially had been charged in the case. One pleaded no contest to voluntary manslaughter, eight pleaded to accessory charges and the case on another defendant was dismissed.
Monroe and Bullard also have unrelated burglary cases pending against them. Judge Balonon scheduled an Aug. 21 hearing to determine how those charges will be handled.