3 cleared of murder, but long prison stints likely

LAWRENCEVILLE — Three men were acquitted of murder charges this week but face decades-long prison sentences for their roles in a planned Snellville drug heist that devolved into a murder scene last summer, a prosecutor said Friday.

The defendants were among a crew of five on June 16 that targeted a reported dope house on Spring Mesa Drive. After their plans fell apart, a robbery victim fired an assault rifle at their get-away car, a Lincoln, fatally striking the front seat passenger, Devonte Bowles, 17, of Detroit.

After deliberating for a day and a half, a jury on Thursday afternoon declared the three defendants — Anthony Trim, 24, Cortez McClain, 20, both of Lawrenceville, and California resident Walter Simon, 36, the driver — not guilty of felony murder. They were charged under Georgia’s party-to-a-crime statue, as prosecutors and defense attorneys agreed none of them had fired the gun that killed Bowles.

Jurors did convict Simon and McClain of criminal attempt to commit armed robbery, burglary and false imprisonment. Gwinnett Superior Court Judge Ronnie Batchelor sentenced them to serve 20 years in prison followed by 10 years probation. Both were also cleared of aggravated assault charges.

A harsher sentence of 50 years was dealt to their accomplice, Trim, who was convicted of aggravated assault plus the other counts. He too faces 10 years probation upon release, said Assistant District Attorney Jimmie Baggett, who prosecuted.

Prosecutors believe McClain chose to rob the residence because he knew two men there, including Erick Moncrieffe, 21, the alleged shooter. A fifth suspect, Kara Casey, 35, of Detroit, awaits trial.

Prosecutors said the crew came with intentions to steel marijuana. Another person in the home fled to a bathroom and called 911. The would-be robbers heard sirens and fled.

Bowles was shot several times in the head, still wearing a ski mask. Simon was also hit and crashed the car down the road as police descended.

Murder, aggravated assault and drug possession charges against Moncrieffe were dropped last September when a grand jury chose not to indict him.

Casey, the lone female suspect, awaits trial at the Gwinnett County Jail on similar charges, though no firm date has been set. Baggett estimated her case will be heard sometime before June.

Bowles’ mother told the Daily Post her son had graduated high school just before his death, and was visiting his cousin, Casey, in Gwinnett “on vacation” before starting college.