After deliberating for an hour and 20 minutes Friday, a jury found Rodney Jennings guilty of second-degree murder.
Jennings, 29, testified earlier this week he saw a firearm in Raphael White's back pocket in the moments before the fatal shooting on Jan. 28, 2014. Jennings fired his own weapon only when White, his ex-girlfriend's cousin, reached for that gun, he said.
Jurors, however, didn't agree with his self-defense theory. They quickly returned a guilty verdict after the state and defense finished closing arguments Friday afternoon in Judge Tom Greenholtz's Criminal Court.
"Thankfully, the hard work paid off and he was convicted as he should have been," prosecutor Cameron Williams said.
Attorney Brandy Spurgin, who represented Jennings, said the state prepared a good case. But she plans to appeal the verdict and added Jennings will appear next in court for his May 24 sentencing hearing.
"We fought everything we could. We had hoped the jury would see through some of the inconsistent testimony," Spurgin said, "but jury trials are always unpredictable."
During the four-day trial, Spurgin and attorney Brian Pearce portrayed White as a dangerous man who was prone to violence as a member of the Gangster Disciples. The attorneys sought to highlight inconsistencies among the state's eyewitnesses.
They argued Jennings was afraid of White and acted out of self-defense the night he fired. Jennings arrived at 2755 Sixth Ave. around 6 p.m. to try to see his two children, whom he fathered with White's cousin, Cheslea Thompson, Spurgin said. But he was soon surrounded by Raphael White, his brother Ronald White, and Thompson, who looked like she knew something was about to happen, as Jennings testified Thursday.
"He's not perfect," Spurgin said of Jennings during closing arguments. "We haven't tried to tell you that. But that night, his fears were real. Those are fears that every person living in gang territory has. Those fears are so real and so legitimate, that even the Chattanooga Police Department has a dedicated unit that deals solely with those problems."
Spurgin said Jennings fled the scene because he feared gang retaliation from White. And, "he threw the gun," Spurgin said. "But you heard him say he didn't want to encounter law enforcement and have them think that he was a threat."
During an aggressive cross-examination Thursday, prosecutor Williams said Jennings manipulated the case into being about gangs when it boiled down to a domestic violence incident involving Thompson in June 2013.
He emphasized that Thompson's family members were furious because Jennings beat her up — not necessarily because they were in gangs.
During closing arguments, Williams said Jennings received a no-trespassing citation from the Chattanooga Housing Authority after the beating. But he returned to Thompson's government housing anyway. And he did so carrying a loaded .38-caliber gun, even though he was a convicted felon before the shooting, Williams said.
Williams also addressed Spurgin's claim that some of the state's witnesses appeared angry or short-tempered on the witness stand.
"Of course she's angry," he said of one. "Her boyfriend, a guy she's known for two and a half years, is shot for no one reason.
"And she comes up here," Williams said, motioning to the witness stand, "and she's picked at.
"Of course she's angry," he continued. "But just because you're angry doesn't mean you seek revenge. People don't do that.
"People aren't always like this man here," he said, pointing his finger squarely at Jennings.
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