After deliberating for about four hours Wednesday afternoon, an Angelina County jury found Rafael Orta guilty of capital murder for his role in the Feb. 7, 2012, shooting death of Darnell Barnett.
Because the state didn't specify that they were seeking the death penalty, the guilty verdict means that Orta will automatically be sentenced to life in prison. Following the verdict, many of Orta's family members were in tears as they left the courtroom.
During closing arguments in Orta's trail earlier Wednesday, the prosecuting and defense attorneys painted two different pictures of Orta, who is standing trial in connection to the Feb. 7, 2012 shooting death of Darnell Bennett, in their closing arguments.
Prosecuting attorney Katrina Carswell told jurors that because Orta was an active participant in the plan to rob Bennett, he is an accomplice to his murder. In turn, defense attorney Jerry Whiteker said the five men involved didn't think anyone would get hurt; they were simply trying to get some marijuana and possibly some cash.
Orta, 20, of Lufkin, is still being held in the Angelina County Jail on a charge of capital murder by terroristic threat. His bond has been set at $1 million.
Last February, Orta and four other suspects were arrested in connection to Bennett's murder. Lufkin Police detectives believe that the five men went to Bennett's house hoping to rob him of marijuana.
In her closing arguments, prosecutor Katrina Carswell told jurors that this is a perfect example of a capital murder case. Carswell said if a person is committing or attempting to commit a robbery at the time of the murder, it can be elevated to capital murder.
"I didn't come here to try and prove a murder or a robbery because that's not what this is," Carswell said.
Carswell told jurors that the law says when someone assists a person in committing a crime, they become a party to that crime. Carswell said the Orta was an accomplice.
"We have more than just presence on the behalf of Mr. Orta; he wasn't just standing idly by," Carswell said.
The prosecution told jurors that these Ort and the other four defendants in the case decided to jack the dope dealer. They knew they had marijuana, and they knew they had money but as soon as they got the rifle and the pistol the plan changed, Carswell said.
Carswell referenced an interrogation video where Orta said he knew something bad could happen.
"He knew someone could get hurt, and they did, and that puts Mr. Orta right in the middle of it," Carswell said.
Defense Attorney Jerry Whiteker told jurors there was no strategy in the robbery, and that the men involved didn't think anyone would get hurt. Whitaker said that they all were trying to satisfy their immediate desire to get some dope and maybe some money.
"The law is a beautiful thing; it recognizes degrees of good, it recognizes degrees of bad," Whiteker said. "It recognizes individuals in their circumstance. Not all individuals fit one circumstance. The law is not one size fits all."
Whitaker told jurors these men thought they were going to get something for free; they didn't foresee what would happen.
Ron Stubblefield, a detective with the Lufkin Police Department, told jurors he doesn't believe the others involved knew there was going to be a murder.
"We knew they were there for some reason, but we were speculative on what that reason was," Stubblefield said.
Marcia Bradford, a teacher at Lufkin High School, told the jury that Jesus Vela came and saw her after the murder. Vela told her he was standing next to the man that pulled the trigger.
"I had the newspaper on my desk and he said that murder right there, I was there," Bradford said.
During Monday's testimony, Travis Strickland, a detective with the Lufkin Police Department, said all five men played a role in Bennett's murder because they went to his house on California Boulevard intent on stealing marijuana from him.
"All five of them decided to rob Mr. Bennett," Strickland said Monday. "This is a murder that occurred during the robbery."
One of the other suspects, Jacob Woodard, admitted to shooting Bennett. In early November, an Angelina County jury found Woodard guilty of capital murder and sentenced him to life in prison.
The other co-defendants in the case include: Jesus Vela, Osvaldo Hernandez, and Gerardo Renteria. They will be tried at a later date.
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