All 12 heads on the jury turned Friday as 18-year-old Kevannah Griffin was lifted from her wheelchair and carefully lowered onto a courtroom bench during closing arguments in the trial of Sade “Ceedy” Hickman.
Hickman, 18, was convicted hours later in Orleans Parish Criminal District Court of attempted manslaughter for firing three bullets into Griffin on a frosty February evening in 2013.
The three-day trial, held before Judge Camille Buras, never did make clear exactly what motivated the spat between the teenagers, which ended with Hickman shooting Griffin from the back seat of a truck at St. Louis and Crozat streets.
Instead, it chronicled a nightmarish evening in which a beef between two groups of youths culminated with one 16-year-old girl pulling the trigger of a .40-caliber handgun and another with a bullet exploding inside her spine.
Griffin, who is now paralyzed, testified Thur sday that it was Hickman who shot her while Griffin was trying to locate a friend.
“They pulled up and she rolled down her window, and that’s when I saw her. And the boys and the girls in the car with her say, ‘Hit that b****. Get that b****. Shoot that ‘ho,’ ” Griffin said.
She gasped to an eyewitness at the scene that “Ceedy” was her assailant, and later she picked Hickman out of a photo lineup while at the hospital.
Prosecutors Elizabeth Kilian and William Macke referred to Griffin’s plight throughout their closing argument, often pointing to the young woman who sat shivering under a blanket beside a handful of friends.
Kilian said Griffin, who now lives in Georgia, had come to New Orleans to testify against medical advice and was literally risking her life to ensure Hickman was put behind bars.
“I know when you have bullets in your spine, that’s not like any cold,” Kilian said. “That’s misery.”
Prosecutors also emphasized the testimony of Loreal Blackwell, an eyewitness who identified Griffin from a photo shown to her by a detective.
But Blackwell lost much of her credibility when it was revealed under cross-examination by defense attorney John Fuller that she had given conflicting statements about the shooter’s clothes and the size of the group of young people she saw.
Fuller and fellow defense attorney Gregory Carter appeared early in the trial to have a two-pronged approach of claiming their client was misidentified and also suggesting that Hickman was being bullied by a larger group of teenagers.
But during Friday’s closing arguments, Fuller spent most of his time attacking the eyewitness testimony of Blackwell, questioning whether Griffin had told an accurate version of what happened and claiming detectives in the case performed shoddy police work.
“There was a big ol’ target drawn on Sade’s back, and all of the detectives made sure the evidence matched the target,” Fuller said.
He argued that a six-person photo lineup shown to Griffin at the hospital was unfairly suggestive because most of the other women in the lineup were much older.
He also questioned the credibility of Griffin, who he said had been dishonest about how she ended up at the scene of the shooting and why she had a Taser in her possession earlier that evening.
“How much leeway are you going to give Kevannah because of her condition?” he asked the jury.
The jury, composed of seven men and five women, had the option of choosing among attempted second-degree murder, attempted manslaughter and aggravated battery.
They deliberated for just under three hours before deciding by a 10-2 vote to convict Hickman on the attempted manslaughter charge. It carries a maximum sentence of 20 years.
Despite the fact that she was 16 at the time of the shooting, District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro’s office had Hickman’s case transferred to adult court.
Hakeem Smith, the driver of the truck in which Hickman was riding, pleaded guilty in August to an accessory count and accepted a five-year prison sentence. He also was 16 at the time of the incident.
Hickman was stoic as the verdict was read, though according to Fuller her mother fainted and had to be taken to the hospital via an ambulance.
Griffin, who was in the courtroom, read a short victim impact statement in which she said she had forgiven Hickman for shooting her.
“I just want to know why you did this to me,” she said.
In a phone interview after the verdict, Fuller said he felt “the fact that Ms. Griffin was paralyzed played a huge role in the minds of the jury.”
He characterized the verdict as bittersweet for his client, who could have faced up to 50 years in prison if convicted of attempted second-degree murder.
During plea negotiations, Fuller said, Hickman had been offered a sentence of between 25 and 40 years, terms which he said were “utterly ridiculous.”
She will be sentenced on Dec. 12.