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Roesser found guilty in slaying of Snellville man

LAWRENCEVILLE - A Gwinnett County jury found a Lawrenceville man guilty Wednesday in the 2006 murder of a Snellville man during a drug transaction gone awry.

Christopher Benjamin Roesser, 26, was later sentenced to life in prison plus five years for the shooting death of 25-year-old Keith Price outside a Lawrenceville business Dec. 20, 2006. Roesser, charged with murder, felony murder, and drugs and weapons possession, will serve the additional five years for firing a gun during the commission of a felony.

The jury deliberated for about two hours Wednesday following testimony by Roesser. On the stand, he claimed Price tried to rob him during an exchange involving a PlayStation 3 and that he opened fire in self-defense. The prosecution, meanwhile, contended Roesser shot Price over a disagreement about the price of two pounds of marijuana and evaded capture for six weeks following the incident.

Roesser - dressed in a pressed blue shirt, tie and dark pants - showed no reaction when the verdict was read aloud. Several members of Roesser's entourage, seated in the third row of the courtroom, quietly sobbed. As a precaution, security was tight in the courtroom during sentencing.

Estella Irving, the mother of Price, was granted permission to address the court and said she prays daily to forgive Roesser.

"You need to change your ways, whether you find God or something," she said, directing her comments to Roesser. "There's a better way. Society makes the rules and we need to follow them."

Roesser declined an opportunity to speak. When sheriff's deputies took him into custody, he briefly glanced at family and friends.

In opening arguments Tuesday, prosecutors said Roesser killed Price with a bullet to the wrist and chest following an argument over the price of marijuana in a mutual friend's car in the parking lot of Averitt Express Inc., Roesser's Lawrenceville employer at the time.

That friend, Roger Epstein, testified Roesser got in the back seat of his Chevy Caprice, where he argued with Price about the $950-per-pound cost of the marijuana. Deputy Chief Assistant District Attorney David Fife said Price reached into the back seat and grabbed Roesser, before Roesser retreated from the vehicle and fired into the car.

Roesser's attorney, Johnny Moore, contended his client was trying to sell the men a then-rare PlayStation 3 for $900 when the fight broke out. Following Wednesday's hearings, Fife said Roesser stuck with the PlayStation 3 alibi because he could claim self-defense.

Investigators found four shell casings, a pair of glasses resembling those Roesser wears and a black toy gun at the scene.

Roesser avoided capture for six weeks following Price's murder. He was later arrested in February 2007 at a Buford residence by a fugitive task force following a tip regarding his location.