From December 2011 to November 2012, the Fresno community was roiled by the case of a shooting that left two teenage brothers dead. The case is pertinent again because of the overdose death July 3, 2016 of Jackson Smith, 22, who told his family that he first turned to illegal drugs at age 18 to numb the pain of Justin Hesketh’s death. Here is coverage of the verdict in the criminal trial of those shooting deaths:
Two brothers were found guilty Nov. 8, 2012 of voluntary manslaughter in the shooting deaths of two teenagers during a confrontation in northwest Fresno in December.
A Fresno County jury convicted Jarrad Beard, 19, in the deaths of Justin Hesketh, 18, and Brandon Moore, 16. Brother Jerry Beard, 16, was found guilty of voluntary manslaughter only in Hesketh’s death.
The jury cleared the Beards of murder charges.
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The verdicts stunned Howard Hesketh, Justin Hesketh’s father.
“I can’t believe it. To bring everything down to manslaughter, I don’t see what they saw, “ he said of the jurors.
Outside the courtroom, prosecutor Mike Frye said to the families of the victims, “This is clearly disappointing.” One family member replied, “This isn’t justice.” Earlier, the same family member walked out during the reading of the sentences, saying: “This ain’t over.”
But Nikkia Rojas, mother of the Beard brothers, said she was satisfied with the verdicts. “I can live with the decision.”
Scott Baly, Jerry Beard’s attorney, said he was disappointed but also relieved by the verdicts.
“We had hoped for better, but it could have been so much worse, “ he said.
Frye said the case was difficult, and jurors had to navigate through many complicated issues. “Although I’m not pleased with the verdicts, I do respect their decisions, “ he said of the jurors. “I am pleased that they found the defendants responsible for the deaths of these two boys.”
Jarrad Beard was senteced Dec. 17, 2012 to a maximum sentence of 34 years in prison. Jerry Beard received a 10-year sentence when he could have received a maximum sentence of 21 years. The brothers could have faced life in prison if they had been convicted of murder.
The Beards were on trial for shooting Hesketh and Moore, who were chasing them through an apartment complex on Dec. 20.
The chase started after two groups of teens exchanged angry looks at the intersection of Herndon and Polk avenues while three Beard brothers and a friend were walking in a crosswalk. Hesketh, Moore and a friend were in a pickup at the stop light.
After a cigarette butt was flicked out of the truck window toward the Beards, Hesketh turned left on Polk as the Beards’ group walked south on Polk. Jarrad Beard, who thought he heard a shot, fired at Hesketh’s truck. A friend with Hesketh and Moore said they thought a rock had hit their truck, but a bullet had pierced one of the truck’s tires.
During the trial, Frye said Jarrad Beard’s shot provoked the altercation.
Hesketh and Moore chased the three Beards and their friend through an apartment complex.
Frye said the shots were fired at close range and called the deaths an execution, but Baly said Jarrad Beard warned Hesketh and Moore to “get back” before firing and they didn’t listen.
Baly said the shootings were self-defense. When the Beards fired at their pursuers, he said, Jarrad Beard was being punched and their friend was tackled by Hesketh and Moore, who were larger.
Toxicology reports showed Hesketh and Moore had toxic levels of methamphetamine.
The verdicts were read in the packed courtroom of Judge Denise Whitehead amid tight security. About 15 Fresno County sheriff’s deputies and probation officers were in the courtroom, with the Beards’ family and friends seated on one side and family and friends of the victims on the other.