0

Guilty verdict in killing

LAWRENCEVILLE - A Gwinnett Superior Court jury found a Snellville man guilty Friday of the 2006 murder of Adler "Jerry" Benoit in a McDonald's parking lot.

Sabon Allen Julius, a 19-year-old Snellville man also known as "Buddha," was convicted on all five charges he faced, including murder, felony murder, aggravated assault and two counts of possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime.

His sentencing hearing is scheduled for Monday.

Assistant District Attorney Richard Vandever confirmed Julius' conviction during a phone interview late Friday, saying "I appreciate the hard work the jury did."

Jury deliberation started shortly after 12 p.m. Friday, and spilled into the evening. The case involved a complex plot with several young men who were present at the murder scene, but who never implicated a gunman in Benoit's shooting death.

Jurors, though, ultimately convicted Julius of shooting Benoit, 20, of Jonesboro, during a September 2006 confrontation at a McDonald's restaurant on Ga. Highway 124.

Neither side presented a clear motive for Benoit's murder during the four-day trial. Witnesses only said Julius and the victim argued about going to College Park prior to the shooting.

Julius sat quietly through the trial in the same blue-striped shirt, sporting a pencil-thin beard and short hair. He spoke only when he declined to testify Thursday.

In his closing argument, Julius' attorney Mike McDaniel picked apart the credibility of the state's five key witnesses, a bunch that included a convicted rapist, a schizophrenic man and a current inmate who hesitated to go under oath this week.

"The state's case depends solely on the credibility of the men who fled the scene, lied to the police," McDaniel said. "There's no physical evidence that connects (Julius) to this crime at all."

Vandever countered that the witnesses failed to implicate Julius in the crime - or altered their stories in front of the defendant in court - because they fear him.

"There's an intimidation factor," he said.

McDaniel blames the shooting on a man named Chris Brooks, who witnesses said was in Benoit's backseat behind a passenger when the victim was shot. Police questioned Brooks early in the investigation but were not able to locate him since.

"Chris Brooks doesn't want to be found" because he "likes the situation the way it is," with Julius on trial, McDaniel said.

Vandever said Friday the logistics of the shooting made it unlikely that someone shot Benoit from the right side of his backseat. Police found blood spatter on only the left side of Benoit's headrest, and the victim used his left hand to cover his head before he was shot, indicating the shooter was likely to his left, Vandever said.

Benoit was shot once through his left hand and the back of his head.

The victim's mother, Esther Benoit, left her new health care job in Brooklyn, N.Y., to attend. She was visibly shaken during McDaniel's closing statements, and she exited the proceedings at one point, cursing outside the courtroom doors.

A former Gwinnett police detective said Julius and his alleged victim hung out together on Sept. 7, 2006, at a Snellville pool party. They left the party with several men in three vehicles and went to a Texaco station, then next door to McDonald's, where Benoit bought food moments before he was killed in the driver's seat of his Ford Taurus, the detective said.

Julius was arrested on an unrelated charge a day after the murder.