Orlando Rhinehart was acquitted of murder and attempted murder Thursday in a 2014 birthday party shooting while the two gunmen who opened fire at the Natomas celebration were convicted of first-degree murder, prosecutors said.
The ambush attack at Peregrine Park left a man dead and wounded a 7-year-old girl and five others.
After weeks of testimony from scores of witnesses, Sacramento Superior Court jurors needed nearly seven days and a second round of closing arguments from Sacramento County prosecutor Eric Kindall and defense attorney Jeffrey Fletcher before returning their verdicts just after noon.
“Mr. Rhinehart should never have been charged,” said Fletcher.
“When you want to take a man’s life from him, you should do it with evidence,” Fletcher said.
Prosecutors argued Rhinehart, 30, was the link to co-defendants Kelly Thomas and Avery Hill’s May 10, 2014 attack on New Money gang rivals at the birthday party that killed 29-year-old Jacoby James.
They said Rhinehart tipped Hill in a string of phone calls from a nearby basketball court minutes before the shooting.
Separate juries earlier convicted Thomas and Hill, both 24, of first-degree murder in James’ killing, along with three counts each of attempted murder and firearm allegations in the park shooting, Kindall said.
Jurors acquitted the pair of three other counts of attempted murder in the shootings of two women and the 7-year-old girl caught in the gunfire.
Thomas faces sentencing Sept. 16. Hill will be sentenced Nov. 14 before the trial judge, Sacramento Superior Court Judge Maryanne Gilliard.
Gilliard will also rule on prior strike allegations against Hill for an attempted robbery in 2008 and Thomas, who was convicted of burglary in 2010, at their sentencing hearings, Sacramento County district attorney’s officials said Thursday.
If Gilliard finds the prior strikes true, Hill and Thomas could spend the rest of their lives in prison.
“Hill and Thomas came to the park loaded for bear. They’re going to kill everybody in their way to make sure they kill the New Money people,” Sacramento County Deputy District Attorney Kindall said at trial.
Kindall argued Rhinehart provided “the intel (Hill and Thomas) need to commit payback.”
But Rhinehart, at the park with his young son, had no connection to the New Money crew and did not know a shooting was about to happen, Fletcher said.
“He was used,” Fletcher said. “Out of 100 witnesses, no one came forward to say he knew that these guys knew each other and wanted to kill each other,” Fletcher said following the Thursday verdict. “There was no evidence that he knew a shooting was going to take place. ... There was no evidence to connect him to this shooting.”
Rhinehart’s mother, Barbara Rhinehart, arrived at the courthouse minutes after the jury delivered her son’s verdict. She burst into tears at the news.
“I just thank God that the truth has come out. I have been praying, my church has been praying with me,” Barbara Rhinehart said. “People have been saying things about my son that aren’t true. For two years, my grandson has been very depressed. He thought it was his fault. He asked his dad to take him to that park.”
Kindall had argued bad blood and a shooting war between the high-rolling New Money crew and Thomas and Hill had been boiling since the April 2013 shooting death of New Money chieftain Lawrence “M3” Smith at his Pocket-area apartment.
The men of New Money suspected Thomas and Hill engineered Smith’s killing – suspicions that found their way into Kindall’s argument at trial.
Jurors viewed security camera images from Roseville’s Galleria mall that captured Hill and Thomas in the middle of a shopping spree for clothes and other items hours after Smith’s death that prosecutors used to suggest the purchases were bought with Smith’s money.
Kindall alleged a second ambush shooting that targeted Thomas at his Arden Arcade-area apartment complex was seen by Thomas as payback for Smith’s killing.
Kindall said Thomas and Hill – armed with Uzi-type automatic weapons and intelligence from Rhinehart – went to the Natomas park to exact deadly revenge on the New Money crew for the apartment shooting months earlier. Four New Money members were wounded at the party for Lawrence Smith’s then-1-year-old son.
Smith’s shooting remains unsolved.
Editor’s Note: Previous versions of this story listed the shooting victim as Jacoby Jones. His name is Jacoby James. We regret the error.