Dennis Bendy found guilty of murder in P.T. Cole Park shooting

UPDATE (1:35pm) -- A Smith County jury found Dennis Bendy guilty of murder in the shooting death of Briana Young. Bendy will be sentenced August 28, 2014 at 9 a.m. Judge Jack Skeen, Jr. will rely on a presentencing report to decide how how many years Bendy will spend in prison. He could give Bendy a life sentence.

TYLER (KYTX) -- Dennis Bendy sat in the Smith County 241st District courtroom Tuesday waiting for a final answer on what his future holds. For more than a week, he has sat silently as a parade of witnesses implicated him in the July 30, 2013 gang-related shootout that took the life of 20-year-old Briana Young as her 3-year-old son watched. Young and her son were playing in the park when she got caught in the crossfire.

 Get caught up on the trial's twists and turns here.

Tuesday's proceedings began with Judge Jack Skeen, Jr. reading the official charge of the court to the jury. That document will serve as a roadmap during the jury's deliberations.

The charge provides legal guidance on what elements have to be proven for the jury to find Bendy guilty. In this case it provides a large amount of guidance on the law of parties, under which Bendy is allegedly responsible for Young's death based on his general involvement in the alleged gang-related shootout, despite the fact that one of his co-defendants is accused of being the one who actually fired the fatal shot.

Additionally, the jury has been given the option of a lesser charge in the case. If they are unable to find Bendy guilty of murder, they can instead find him guilty of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. The burden of proof is much lower on that, only requiring that Bendy threatened Young on the night in question by displaying a handgun.

The charge instructs the jury to find Bendy guilty of the lesser charge if they find themselves convinced of his guilt but unable to agree on murder or aggravated assault.

After hearing the charge read in full, District Attorney Matt Bingham began his closing argument. He began by further explaining concepts of transferred intent and shared culpability to the jury.
Bingham argued that Bendy is guilty, despite not having fired the fatal shot, because he and co-defendant Elisha Williams were there for the same purpose--to kill rival gang member K.J. Wilson-Hurd.

"I'm not going to spend my time telling you why he's not guilty of aggravated assault," Bingham said. "He is guilty of it. But he's guilty of more."

Bingham reminded jurors that, though the testimony of co-conspirators can't be used by itself to convict Bendy, it can be combined with evidence that "tends to connect" him to the crime. Bingham said that evidence by itself doesn't have to prove every element of the co-conspirators' testimony.

Bingham acknowledged that one of the alleged co-conspirators, Stephen Whitemon, came in with an immunity deal for his testimony. He said the same wasn't true for Rakheem Goldstein, whose powerful testimony placed Bendy at the scene.

"Rakheem Goldstein came in here with no deals at all," Bingham said. "That testimony could be used against him if he came in here for a trial. I don't like Rakheem Goldstein but you have to admire that he came in here facing life in prison to tell you what happened."

Bingham switched gears abd began talking about Young's death and the little boy who watched her die. He reminded jurors she was an innocent bystander and said it didn't have to happen.

"Dennis Bendy wanted to shoot [K.J. Wilson-Hurd], and for what?" Bingham asked. "Some dumb gang turf war?"

Bingham thanked the Tyler Police officers and detectives who helped solve the case, saying, if not for them, that the streets would be overrun with gang violence.

"This is real," Bingham said. "This is in your back yards. And they're watching you to see what you do with this gang member."

Bingham then went through the testimony and evidence covering Bendy's alleged connection to the Westside Rolling 60s gang, outlining the police experts who testified that Bendy is a documented member as well as friends and others who came forward to say Bendy is an active gang member.

Bingham questioned aloud why Bendy would have been at a convenience store less than two hours before the shooting trading his well-known silver Lincoln for a non-descript white Hyundai Elantra, arguing that the only reason would be knowing he was about to commit a crime and wanting to go undetected.

Pulling out a large list of phone records, Bingham talked about the calls that allegedly connect Bendy to the murder. There was one between him and the owner of the white Elantra just a few minutes before they were caught on video swapping cars at the convenience store. Bingham said that was proof that Bendy had his phone with him the night of the crime, which is important because later cell phone calls and the resultant location records place Bendy in the vicinity of the park at the time of Young's murder.

Bingham also highlighted the fact that Bendy had been making calls nearly every minute up until 9:14, just 25 minutes before Young's murder. Bingham said the calls stopped when co-defendant Rakheem Goldstein received the call letting them know Hurd was in the park. The records indicated calls did not resume until after Young was dead.

Bingham reminded jurors that Bendy called Katyron Barrett about getting rid of the guns used in the shooting immediately afterward.

"Briana's not even dead yet. She's laying in the arms of DeShayla Pierce, taking her last breaths." Bingham said. "And he's worried about the guns. Do you think he cares about her life? Not a bit."DNA evidence presented during the trial failed to show any of Bendy's DNA on the Glock handgun he's accused of using. Bingham said the lack of DNA evidence was not something the jury should worry about, citing testimony that it's possible to handle a gun--even without gloves--and not leave any usable DNA.

Bingham played devil's advocate for a moment and imagined aloud that the defense might try to claim that Bendy was merely present for all of the events of that night without having any intent to be involved in a crime.

"This is not a mere presence case," Bingham said. "Bendy is the reason she's dead. She had one life to live on this earth."

That concluded Bingham's initial argument. Defense attorney Rex Thompson began his closing argument.

Thompson began by acknowledging the tragic nature of what happened that night at the park while asking the jury to find Bendy not guilty.

"They proved shooting a gun into a park is clearly dangerous to human life," Thompson said. "But they didn't prove that Mr. Bendy killed Briana Young. He is not actually guilty of shooting Briana Young."

Thompson argued that Bendy's presence at the park during the shooting was not supported by evidence. He insinuated that video of someone switching cars at a convenience store and testimony from criminals does not prove Bendy's involvement beyond a reasonable doubt.

Thompson reminded the jury that none of the people present in the park who witnessed the shooting testified that Dennis Bendy was the shooter. All of them said it was too dark to see. Specifically, he mentioned DeShayla Pierce's testimony. Pierce is Young's son's aunt who pulled the boy out from under his dying mother. She did not identify Bendy as the shooter.

"Dont' you think she would have if there had been any chance he did it?" Thompson asked.

Thompson criticized Goldstein's testimony as being an attempt to lessen his own sentence via cooperation, despite not having any deal with the district attorney's office ahead of time. He also criticized the immunity given to Stephen Whitemon for his testimony regarding supplying an AK-47 for the shooting and then helping to get rid of the Ruger pistol afterward.

"That's what shows how weak the case is," Thompson said. "That they're willing to make that deal to prop up Goldstein's testimony."

Thompson bottom-lined it by claiming there were no credible eyewitnesses placing Bendy at the shooting. Then he turned to physical evidence, reminding the jury that there was a white wife-beater shirt found under the passenger seat of the white Elantra, and that Goldstein had more opportunity to leave such evidence behind than Bendy did.

Thompson reminded jurors Bendy's DNA was not on the Glock handgun, but that three other undetermined people had left DNA on it.

"It simply can't be true that Mr. Bendy's DNA broke down or was washed away over time," Thompson said. "Three other profiles certainly were not."

Thompson called the evidence against his client "less than circumstantial," arguing that the state's case was not enough to send someone away to prison for decades, if not life.

"There are a lot more things that show you it's a lot more likely it was someone else," Thompson said. "If you're the kind of jury who's going to believe people like these, then by all means find Dennis Bendy Guilty. But I don't think you're that kind of jury."

Thompson ended his argument and Bingham resumed to take the rest of his own allotted time.

Bingham took issue with Thompson's assertion that some of the emotion surrounding Young's death and a shooting at a public park should be swept aside until after a legal judgement is made one way or the other against Bendy. Bingham said the jury should take into account where this happened, who it involved, and the grief of the mother sitting in the courtroom who would never see her daughter again.

Bingham argued there was more than enough evidence, including unimpeachable phone records from Sprint which, he said, had no stake in the outcome of the trial.

Countering Thompson's claim that Goldstein was not credible, Bingham said there was no evidence to show Goldstein was lying.

The jury began its deliberations at 11:30am.

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