Convicted murderer Fredrick Brown, who lodged a chancy appeal of his guilty pleas and sentencing for killing two men in separate shootings, won a small victory Friday.
A jury found the 38-year-old Chattanooga man guilty of voluntary manslaughter in the 1991 slaying of Samuel Scott.
Brown has been incarcerated since 1992. If he can win either an acquittal or conviction on a lesser charge in a second killing that he committed while free on bond after killing Scott, Brown could get out of prison sooner than his current sentence of 36 years.
"We're very grateful," Brown's attorney, Donna Miller, said Friday. "I always felt like it was a voluntary manslaughter."
Hamilton County Executive Assistant District Attorney Neal Pinkston said that "based on the proof, it's pretty clear that [Brown] chased Mr. Scott down and killed him, shot him seven times."
"It's difficult to accept the verdict, but nonetheless we have to, and we knew that going into it," he said.
The victim's sister, Kenyetta Scott, sat through the four-day trial and sat in stunned disbelief as jury foreman read the verdict.
"Where is the justice for the slain victim? Are we teaching our kids that it's OK to just go out and kill?" she said. "Do I have faith in a second trial? No."
Scott did reconcile with Brown's mother as both families awaited the verdict Friday morning. Scott hugged Sylvia Fuller in the hallway and said, "It's not your fault."
As Fuller cried, Scott said, "We both lost somebody."
Fuller declined to comment after the verdict.
In 1993, Brown pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in the deaths of Scott and Corey Strickland and was sentenced to serve two concurrent life sentences.
At the time, life was 60 years with parole eligibility at 36 years. But Tennessee law requires that a sentence for a separate crime committed while on bond must be served consecutively to the first sentence.
Brown wrote his own appeals until he won the right to a trial and the court appointed Miller to represent him.
Miller said Brown didn't know his decision to appeal was a gamble because he could face 36 more years in prison if convicted of first-degree murder in both trials.
Now he must be retried in Strickland's death. He has a hearing on that case set for April 9, the same day as his sentencing for Scott's death.
Under evidence rules, jurors in the trial could not be told about Brown's previous guilty plea. After Friday's verdict, several jurors declined to speak about their decision.
During the trial, Pinkston and Assistant District Attorney Lance Pope called an eyewitness who saw Brown approach Scott while the victim was working on a pickup truck at 3818 Alton Park Blvd.
Brown began firing a handgun at Scott, who ran away but collapsed in a nearby vacant lot, the witness testified.
Brown claimed in a recorded interview with Detective Tim Carroll, now Chattanooga's assistant police chief, that Scott had robbed him at gunpoint two to three weeks before the killing.
In the interview, which was played for jurors, Brown told Carroll that he spotted Scott while riding in a car with a friend. He said he went to retrieve a handgun because he feared Scott would be armed, then went to Scott's location to get a stolen watch back.
In the second case, Brown shot Strickland in the stomach with a shotgun, records show.