Crime

3 convicted in attempted murder of former college basketball player

A Fresno Superior Court jury on Wednesday found three people guilty in the attempted murder of a former college basketball player, including one man who was a suspect in the killing of 9-year-old Janessa Ramirez but was never charged with that crime.

Donte Hawkins, 22, was on the run for more than a month after Janessa was killed in January 2015. After he surrendered to police in February 2015, he was released because of a lack of evidence. A month after that, police say Hawkins, Isaiah Runderson, 21, and 16-year-old Jalonie Jones tried to kill Brandon Rasheed Morris near Ashlan and Polk avenues, west of Highway 99.

Jurors on Wednesday found the trio guilty of attempted murder and robbery of Morris – a former University of Georgia basketball player – and of assaulting Morris and his friends Briawna Brown and Cortez Conners with a firearm. Jurors also said the three committed the crime for the benefit of a criminal street gang. Jones was tried as an adult because of the seriousness of the crime.

The three face the possibility of life in prison when they are sentenced April 11 by Judge Arlan Harrell.

Only Jones showed any emotion when the verdict was read, slumping in his chair and putting his hands over his head. Friends and family members, however, wept quietly. Some left the courtroom and could be heard weeping loudly in the hallway.

In presenting his case, prosecutor Scott Hoedt told jurors that the attempted murder and robbery of Morris were a case of misplaced trust. According to Hoedt, Morris was friends with Runderson and Hawkins.

Both sides agree that on March 27, 2015, Morris, Brown and Conners were partying in Los Angeles when they decided to come to Fresno. They intended to purchase either a “gold grill” – a mouthpiece made of gold – a gun or marijuana for Morris, the defense lawyers said.

Hoedt said Morris, Brown and Conners drove to Ellendale and Gettysburg avenues, where they met Hawkins, Runderson and Jones, who were in a car with two other men. Initially, Morris and Hawkins got out of their cars and began talking, the prosecutor said. Then Hawkins beckoned Runderson and Jones to accompany him, Hoedt said.

Suddenly, Morris was grabbed from behind. Runderson and Jones then pointed guns at Morris while Hawkins robbed Morris of his cellphone and gold chains, Hoedt said.

When Jones pointed a gun at Morris’ face, Morris pushed it away and was shot in the neck, Hoedt said. Thinking Morris was dead, Brown and Conners took off as bullets hit their car.

Hoedt told the jury that Morris also was shot in the hip as he lay on the ground. He got up, but then was shot in the calf. He collapsed on the front porch of a nearby home.

When police questioned Morris, he told them that Jones had shot him, Hoedt said. But he also identified Hawkins and Runderson as participants in the crime.

The killing of Janessa, who was slain by a stray bullet from a gunfight on Marks Avenue north of Clinton Avenue during the evening of Jan. 18, 2015, was not part of the trial. Brian Cooks, 23, is in Fresno County Jail, accused of killing Janessa. Cooks contends he fired his gun after Hawkins shot at him from a moving car.

Attorneys for the three defendants declined to comment after the verdict.

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