Copyright 2017 Knoxville News-Sentinel Co.
All Rights Reserved
Knoxville News-Sentinel (Tennessee)
A Knox County jury on Thursday convicted one young man as the primary culprit and two others as helpers in the fatal shooting of an innocent teenager.
The six-man, six-woman jury deliberated six and a half hours in Knox Criminal Court Thursday before finding Christopher Drone Bassett, 22, guilty of first-degree murder in the December 2015 shooting death of Fulton High School football player Zaevion Dobson.
Jurors found Richard Gregory Williams III, 23, and Kipling Colbert Jr., 22, guilty of a lesser charge of facilitation of first-degree murder.
Bassett will receive an automatic life sentence with the possibility of parole after serving 51 years in the first-degree murder conviction. Williams and Colbert face a penalty range of 15 to 25 years in the facilitation convictions.
All three were also convicted of the attempted murders of Dobson's brother and teenage friends who had been gathered in Lonsdale with Dobson when gunfire erupted. Judge Steve Sword set a Feb. 2 sentencing hearing for Bassett, Williams and Colbert. The trio remain jailed.
A hero's death
Dobson, his brother and a group of teenage friends were hanging out on the porch of a home in Lonsdale after a basketball game when a group of young men walked onto Badgett Drive and opened fire.
Dobson was the only person struck in the sudden attack and died, testimony showed, shielding two teenage girls from the volley of gunfire. His death drew nationwide attention, with then-President Barack Obama citing it in a speech on gun violence.
The teenager was posthumously awarded the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the ESPY Awards, and ESPN produced a documentary about him.
Testimony in the trial, which spanned eight days before jury deliberations began, showed that, on the day Dobson was slain, Brandon Perry, 23, sprayed the Western Heights community in Northwest Knoxville with bullets in a dispute with the uncle of his girlfriend's child.
Two hours later, someone opened fire on Perry's mother's home on Dallas Street in East Knoxville. Perry's mother was wounded.
Cruiser video from the Knoxville Police Department showed both Perry and Bassett arrived at Perry's mother's home shortly after the shooting. Both appeared angry.
Perry and Bassett left the Dallas Street home and, surveillance footage showed, met up with a posse of young men, who armed themselves before traveling to Lonsdale and parking at a community park. At least six and as many as eight young men then began walking through the neighborhood and onto Badgett Drive.
Target, motive still unclear
It's still not clear whom Perry was targeting or whether he had a particular target in mind at all.
Prosecutors TaKisha Fitzgerald and Phil Morton contended during the trial Perry and the young men with him that night aligned themselves with a sect of the Bloods street gang.
The Bloods claim East Knoxville as their turf and have long been rivals to sects of the Crips street gang, which claim low-income neighborhoods in Northwest Knoxville as their territory.
The prosecutors argued Perry targeted Lonsdale for a retaliatory shooting simply because it represented Crips turf.
Dobson, his brother and friends were not part of either gang and instead were celebrating the end of the fall semester when at least 34 bullets were fired from four different guns aimed in their direction.
Dobson was struck by a single bullet in the shoulder. The bullet traveled into his aorta, and he died within minutes.
Four hours later, Perry was fatally shot as he drove Bassett's car into the parking lot of an apartment complex in East Knoxville. His slaying and the wounding of his mother remain unsolved.
Bassett, who is Perry's cousin, admitted to Knoxville Police Department Investigator A.J. Loeffler he went with Perry to Lonsdale and fired a gun, though he insisted he fired into the air to avoid striking anyone. He denied any gang ties.
The gun used to shoot Dobson was found a month later underneath a passenger seat in a car in which Williams was traveling. A teenager who was outside in Lonsdale just before Dobson was slain, later identified Colbert as among the group of young men he saw heading toward Badgett Drive on foot.
Police were unable to amass proof of gang membership by Bassett, Williams or Colbert. But the prosecutors - in a legally controversial move - were allowed to show jurors a YouTube video posted seven months before Dobson was slain in which the trio, joined by other young men, rap to the lyrics of a song pledging allegiance to the Bloods.
Fitzgerald and Morton insisted they needed to show jurors why the young men opened fire on innocent teenagers in order to prove their case. Defense attorneys T Scott Jones, Kit Rodgers and Rhonda Lee, who represent Bassett, Williams and Colbert, respectively, contended the prosecutors were simply trying to prejudice jurors, tapping into their fears of gangs and gang violence.
Knox County District Attorney General Charme Allen praised KPD and Loeffler in particular, who she said "worked this case tirelessly." She also praised Morton and Fitzgerald, saying they "poured their heart and soul into this case."
Bassett, Williams and Colbert are the only young men charged in Dobson's death, though police have identified at least three other suspects.
Read More of Today's AB Headlines
Subscribe to Our Daily E-Newsletter