Guilty verdict in death of champion boxer Vernon Forrest

A Fulton County jury Thursday found DeMario Ware guilty of felony murder and lesser charges in the shooting death of former world champion boxer Vernon Forrest.

Ware was sentenced to life without parole on felony murder charges.

As Fulton County Superior Court Judge Alford J. Dempsey Jr., began to read the jury’s decisions Thursday day morning, Ware’s family members all sat up and slid to the edges of their seats.

“Not guilty,” Dempsey announced twice. Once for the most serious count – malice murder; and again for the charge of felony murder in the commission of aggravated assault.

Ware's family let out whispered exultations. But their mood quickly changed upon announcement of the remaining counts.

"On the charge of felony murder during the commission of armed robbery, the court finds ...  guilty," Fulton County Superior Court Judge Alford J. Dempsey Jr., said to the courtroom.

Ware's head dropped and sobs arose from his family members.

“He’s only 22,” Ware’s mother, Lawanda Chisholm said after the sentencing. “I just don’t feel it was the right decision to give him life without parole.”

But the judge said his decision was intended to make a statement.

“Violence is out of hand,” Dempsey said. “The community is sick and tired. Somebody needs to get the message that you can’t do this type of stuff.”

Felony murder occurs when a jury holds a defendant liable for a death that occurs during the commission of another felony. In this case the other felony was armed robbery, for which Ware was also convicted.

Ware did not fire the gun that killed the 38-year-old Atlanta welterweight the night of July 29, 2009, but was convicted on charges of felony murder, armed robbery and possession of a gun during commission of a crime.

In a police interview, recorded and played for the jury during the trial, he admitted to pointing a loaded gun at Forrest on the night of July 25, 2009, and taking the boxer’s gold championship ring and diamond Rolex watch.

An ensuing chase, with Forrest pursuing Ware, ended with Ware hiding in a nearby building while codefendant Charman Sinkfield allegedly shot the prizefighter in the back five times.

Sinkfield, would be driven from the murder scene by a third codefendant, Jquante Crews. Both Sinkfield and Crews are due in court for similar charges as Ware, with Sinkfield facing the death penalty.

The jury took two days to deliberate the case. Dempsey dismissed the jurors Thursday morning and turned to an emotional sentencing.

“Vernon took care of his family,” the boxer’s older brother, LeVert Forrest told the courtroom, breaking into tears when he described the impact of the champion’s loss to the community.

“During Thanksgiving, before any meal, he would go and feed the homeless. He wanted to make sure the less fortunate ate before he did.”

As the older Forrest continued a tearful litany of the slain welterweight’s long list of good deeds, court workers, sheriff’s deputies, and people from both families wiped their eyes.

Ware cried silently as his attorney, Michael Mann read in open court the defendant’s apology to the family and plea for mercy.

“The loss to your loved one is something I will never be able to understand,” Mann read from Ware’s words. “But I am accepting responsibility for my part.”

Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard said Thursday’s verdict set the stage for the death sentence trial against Sinkfield.

“The facts are all there,” Howard said after the verdict was announced. “We hope this sends a message to Mr. Sinkfield and prevents a needless trial.”

Ware was on probation for felony theft by receiving and credit card fraud at the time of Forrest’s death. Assistant District Attorney Peter Johnson referred to Ware’s past as a reason for seeking a life sentence without parole.

“When the crime was committed, Mr. Ware should not have had a gun,” Johnson said. “He was told to be walking the straight and narrow. We do not believe he has rehabilitation potential.”

Mann intends to appeal the verdict, arguing that the jury didn’t understand the murder count for which they found his client guilty. But his client accepted a small victory from the jury’s decision.

“The jury found him not guilty of the malice murder, which was the most important thing to DeMario,” Mann said. “He didn’t want to be known as a murderer.”

Chisholm said she’d hoped her son’s sentence would be reduced since he cooperated with police.

“I thought he should get, maybe 20 years,” she said. “He admitted to it, and that should account for something. Without that, police wouldn’t have gotten the other two.”

Dempsey referred to the video of Ware’s interview with police that played earlier in the trial before making his ruling.

“He was so casual when he said what he did,” Dempsey said, turning to Ware. “Nobody put that gun in your hand. Nobody told you to go stick somebody up.”

Forrest’s friend, Stacey Williams sat through much of the trial and said he thought the verdict and sentence were justified.

“But nobody wins,” Williams said. “Vernon’s family won’t get to see him anymore. Their families have members they won’t be able to talk to the way they want to.”