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Santory Johnson is led into the courtroom of Judge Tom Greenholtz as jury selection begins in his first-degree murder trial in the Hamilton County Criminal Court on Monday, Oct. 27, 2015, in Chattanooga, Tenn. Johnson faces charges in the shooting death of Christopher Jones, Jr., on Oct. 4, 2013.

A jury found Santory Johnson guilty of second-degree murder Friday in the 2013 slaying of his longtime friend Christopher Jones.

After deadlocking Thursday evening, the jury returned to court Friday morning and delivered the verdict around 1:15 p.m.

"I think they came to [a] decision that made sense for the facts of this case," said Amanda Dunn, one of Johnson's attorneys. "Unfortunately, this was a party that led to a very tragic circumstance. But it wasn't something that led to a premeditated act."

Johnson, 37, will remain in the Hamilton County Jail until his sentencing hearing Dec. 7. He originally faced charges of first-degree murder and possession of a firearm with a violent felony conviction. This conviction means he could spend 15 to 25 years in prison, instead of an automatic life sentence for first-degree murder, Dunn said.

"Obviously, Mr. Johnson is very happy," she said.

During three days of trial, prosecutors called numerous witnesses to recall the evening of Oct. 4, 2013, when 15 to 30 people gathered in Johnson's side yard on 40th Street to gamble and drink around picnic tables.

Jones, 24, left the party around 11 p.m. to drive home with his grandmother, girlfriend and two cousins. But as he walked to the car, Johnson fired a single gunshot into the night.

Upset by the recklessness, Jones ensured his family made it home safely, then drove back to Johnson's house to ask why his friend fired a gun.

"The gunshot upset Christopher Jones," prosecutor Cameron Williams told jurors Thursday during closing arguments. "As it should."

There was a confrontation and Johnson told Jones to leave, saying, "You almost got yourself killed," prosecutors argued.

When Jones replied he would die for his family, Johnson trailed him to his white Ford Taurus, firing several rounds through the driver's and passenger-side windows, prosecutors said.

Jones stumbled out of the car and onto the street, dying on his way to Erlanger hospital.

Throughout the trial, the defense maintained Johnson's innocence and countered that partygoers' testimony was unreliable, time-distorted and inconsistent.

One eyewitness, now a federal inmate being held in Bradley County, only testified in the hopes of reducing his sentence, Dunn said. Another, Charlotte Pinkerton, told a different story under cross-examination than she told police, Dunn added.

On Thursday, Dunn reminded jurors premeditation was necessary for first-degree murder and said Johnson needed to be free from "excitement and passion" to be convicted of that crime.

Numerous details varied from person to person, she argued, "but I think we can agree that nothing done after 11 p.m. was done with exercise and reflection."

"If you believe that his mental state was not free from excitement and passion, you cannot convict him of first-degree murder," she concluded.

The Jones family, who attended the trial all week, was not immediately available for comment.

Contact staff writer Zack Peterson at zpeterson@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6347.

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