Lonta Burress Jr. convicted of assault, waiting for murder trial

Lonta Burress Jr. convicted of assault, waiting for murder trial

July 14th, 2012 by Todd South in News

Lonta Burress Jr. and Darius Gustus turn to watch the first witness approach the stand during the opening of the 2012 school bus stop shooting trial. Burress and Gustus are accused of being involved in a drive-by shooting in 2010 that targeted students exiting a school bus. No one was injured in the event.

Photo by Jake Daniels /Times Free Press.

One of two defendants found guilty Friday on all counts for a 2010 shooting at a school bus stop now waits to find out when his murder trial will begin.

After less than three hours of deliberation, a Hamilton County Criminal Court jury found Lonta Burress Jr. and Darius Gustus, both 18, guilty of aggravated assault, evading arrest and related charges in the Dec. 7, 2010, drive-by shooting and ensuing 10-minute police chase in an Eastdale neighborhood. Although students had just gotten off the bus, no one was injured in the shooting.

Burress now faces a possible trial on a first-degree murder charge in the June 1, 2011, shooting death of Darius Townsend. That trial date could be set when he faces sentencing on Aug. 28 along with Gustus.

Townsend and Burress grew up in the same area, according to Townsend's mother, and they were classmates and childhood friends. A witness told police he watched Burress stand over Townsend while he was lying in the 900 block of Taylor Street with his hands in the air and saying, "Don't do me like this man," according to the arrest report.

This week's trial was marked by witnesses who were reluctant to testify or claimed not to remember certain events.

Prosecutor Cameron Williams said he'd anticipated problems with witnesses and said sheriff's deputies and Chattanooga police were very helpful, both in testimony and locating witnesses.

"I can't imagine why people would not want to do something about these activities in their communities," Williams said. "Why the community would not want to come in and put these guys away that fire weapons at students coming off of buses?"

Defense attorneys John McDougal and Galen Pickard said testimony conflicted and created more doubt than certainty. Both said they plan to appeal.

"There's just so many things that conflict and muddy the water. There's just no clear picture," Pickard said.

During the trial, it took nearly two days to locate and compel Lajuana Detrice Woods, 19, to testify. Shortly after the incident, Woods told police she was in the stolen red Ford F-150 pickup that Burress drove while Gustus fired at the bus stop.

But in the trial she said she is hard of hearing and has memory problems, and that she didn't recall anything of the shooting.

Along with two others, Burress also was charged in a February 2010 shooting in Coolidge Park that injured five people, but prosecutors dismissed charges when a key witness changed testimony.