In a case initially investigated as a possible hate crime, a black convicted felon labeled by prosecutors as a schoolyard bully, thug and “dime-store hoodlum” was found guilty Thursday night in the Mother’s Day 2013 beating of a white St. Francisville man outside a north Baton Rouge convenience store.
After the jury’s unanimous verdict was announced, David Ray III — who testified during the trial that Donald Ray Dickerson told him he was in the “wrong neighborhood” before he punched Ray unconscious in front of his wife and young daughters — downplayed the racial overtones that have hovered over the case for the past two years.
“That (race) never entered my mind,” Ray said outside state District Judge Lou Daniel’s courtroom.
“We don’t want to be a symbol of hatred. That’s not who we are,” he added.
Ray said he would like to meet and thank those, including Dan Williams Jr., Jamichael Williams and Latasha Henderson, who came to his aid at Stadium Chevron on Scenic Highway the night of May 12, 2013, and assisted police in tracking down Dickerson. Dan and Jamichael Williams, who are former brothers-in-law, and Henderson are black.
East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore III called those three, who also testified at the trial, “community heroes of color.” Dan and Jamichael Williams prevented Ray from being injured more seriously or killed by restraining Dickerson for a time, Moore said.
Henderson called 911 and followed a vehicle that Dickerson rode away in until police pulled that vehicle over.
Ray was hospitalized with a broken eye socket, broken nose and other injuries after the brutal attack.
“That was a scary night,” he said Thursday. “I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy.”
Daniel ordered a presentence investigation report and set a Sept. 3 sentencing date for Dickerson, 43, of Baton Rouge. The judge also ordered him held without bail.
Moore said his office will seek to have Dickerson — who has prior convictions for armed robbery, carnal knowledge of a juvenile and purse snatching — sentenced under the state’s habitual offender law, which could subject him to a lifetime behind bars.
“It’s been a long journey,” Ray said. “My family’s been living in pain for two years — what if. It certainly has made my family stronger.”
Ray’s wife, Angela, and their eldest daughter, Chaney, were punched when they tried to intervene that Mother’s Day night on his behalf.
Two others — Devin Bessye and Ashley Simmons — were issued summonses for simple battery, a misdemeanor, for allegedly hitting Angela and Chaney Ray. The officers who decided not to book Bessye and Simmons into Parish Prison were counseled for an error in judgment, Police Chief Carl Dabadie has said.
The jury of four women and two men deliberated for 90 minutes before convicting Dickerson.
Trial testimony also indicated that words were exchanged between Dickerson and Ray about the pink shirt Ray was wearing that night.
Prosecutors Brandon Fremin and Barry Fontenot told the six-person jury in their closing arguments Thursday that the case had nothing to do with race or clothing and everything to do with Dickerson’s violent actions.
“This isn’t about his (Dickerson’s) race. It’s all about him beating the hell out of David Ray. He was spoiling for a fight, the schoolyard bully,” Fremin argued.
Fontenot refused to call it a fight, saying Dickerson essentially sucker-punched Ray “in a most cowardly fashion,” then continued to hammer and pummel him. He called Dickerson a “dime-store hoodlum and thug.”
“This wasn’t a fight. It was a beatdown because he (Dickerson) snuck him,” Fontenot told the jury. “I don’t have the slightest idea what this was all about, but he (Dickerson) was loaded for bear.”
Shalita Sanders, one of Dickerson’s attorneys, acknowledged Dickerson struck Ray but argued Dickerson “wasn’t looking for a fight” when he went to Stadium Chevron that night and did not target Ray.
Some witnesses testified hearing Ray ask Dickerson if he felt intimidated by someone in a pink shirt, a comment that Sanders said provoked Dickerson.
“He (Ray) called out his (Dickerson’s) manhood,” she argued.
Follow Joe Gyan Jr. on Twitter, @JoeGyanJr.