Man convicted of murder flees courtroom before verdict

Credit: Fulton County District Attorney

Credit: Fulton County District Attorney

A man accused of killing a 19-year-old nearly seven years ago fled the Fulton County courthouse before the verdict was read, the district attorney’s office said.

Verlaine Laguerre, 26, disappeared Friday afternoon before jurors convicted him of killing Matthew Hardeman, Fulton district attorney spokesman Chris Hopper said in a news release. A jury also convicted Laguerre’s accomplice, Prentice Baker Jr., of murder.

Laguerre, who was on bond, left the courthouse during a lunch break, the Fulton County Sheriff’s Office said. Deputies and the U.S. Marshals Service are leading a search for him.

For now, Laguerre’s whereabouts are unknown.

In October 2011, the two men got into a fight with Hardeman outside his Lakewood Terrace home in southeast Atlanta, Hopper said. When it ended, Laguerre told Hardemen he was coming back with his “red eye,” referring to his gun.

He and Baker left, came back and opened fire on Hardeman, Hopper said. A third man also fired shots, but he was never identified.

Hardeman’s family found his body lying in the grass in his front yard. He was shot 50 times.

Baker and Laguerre were granted bond following the shooting but were ordered to wear ankle monitors and required to follow a curfew, Hopper said. During his release, Laguerre was arrested on weapons and manufacturing marijuana charges.

The case first went to trial in December 2014, but the judge declared a mistrial after proceedings extended into the Christmas holiday, Hopper said.

The DA’s office pursued a new trial in June 2015, but the defense appealed, citing double jeopardy. The appeal was thrown out in May 2017, with the trial beginning last week.

Baker and Laguerre were sentenced to life in prison plus five years.

Hardeman had attended Cal State Fullerton on a football scholarship. A knee injury forced him to return home, where he took criminal justice classes at Georgia State University. He was also preparing to join the school’s football team.

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