Spelman trial: Benton gets life plus 25 years in murder of Jasmine Lynn

A Fulton County jury found Devonni Manuel “Devo” Benton guilty of murder and two counts of aggravated assault Saturday in the September shooting that killed Spelman College sophomore Jasmine Lynn.

Benton, 21, was sentenced to a life sentence plus 25 years for the random killing along with a weapons possession charge. In Georgia, a person must serve at least 25 years for a first life conviction before being eligible for parole.

The jury deliberated five hours Saturday, stopping for an hour lunch before returning the verdict at 3:35 p.m. This followed about nine hours of deliberation Friday.

Witnesses said Benton fired a gun into a crowd on Clark Atlanta University's campus in the early hours of Sept. 3.

Lynn, witnesses said, was shot in the chest as she attempted to break up a fight outside one of the university's dorms.

The 19-year-old from Kansas City, Mo., was the first in her family to attend college. She died with a 3.8 grade-point average.

The three-day trial came to a close Friday when jurors heard final arguments calling for them to either convict Benton, or "give him justice," as defense attorney Jackie Patterson urged, declaring his client innocent.

“There is no way Mr. Benton committed this crime,” Patterson told the jury as he gestured to Scales of Justice on the defense table during closing arguments Friday.

But on Saturday, Patterson said he felt devastated after hearing the verdict.

“In 18 years, this was the hardest case I have ever had,” the veteran attorney and former Clark Atlanta police chief said.

“Obviously he is innocent but the jury felt otherwise. When I heard the jury say ‘not guilty' on that first count [of malice murder], I just knew they would read ‘not guilty' all the way down.”

Benton has 30 days to appeal the decision, Patterson told the AJC. “I believe he will,” the defense attorney said.

As the verdicts were read, gasps and sighs could be heard throughout the courtroom. Lynn’s mother, Constance Franklin, dabbed tears from her face and members of Benton’s family sobbed uncontrollably in the back of the courtroom.

Sheila Kitchens, Benton’s aunt, was led from the courtroom as Fulton Superior Court Judge T. Jackson Bedford Jr. addressed the defendant.

“This is absolutely irreprehensible to fire a firearm in the direction of a crowd,” Bedford said. “This is totally a senseless loss of life.”

Bedford said the impact goes far beyond just Benton and Lynn, but to the families of both individuals as well.

“This will not bring her back,” he said to court room. “This is a wound that will never be healed.”

As Benton was led away in handcuffs, Franklin hugged District Attorney Paul Howard and Assistant District Attorney Eleanor Ross.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you,” she said as she cried and held Ross, lead prosecutor of the case.

The six men and six women comprising the jury heard two days of testimony from a host of witnesses who were found, at times, to have been untruthful, either during the investigation or on the witness stand.

The jury considered the circumstances of the fight that started on Clark Atlanta University’s campus, and the six shots that police and witnesses said were fired by a man wearing a Mohawk, a red jacket and khaki shorts, who dropped a tan and red book bag as he fled.

Testimony from witnesses of the shooting and the preceding fight were varied, in some cases putting the shooter in a white shirt, dreadlocks, a hoodie or skinny jeans.

But Ross cautioned the jury that different people could see different things, and encouraged them to focus on the “common threads” of the book bag, the Mohawk, and the jacket.

“Don’t think that because every single witness didn’t come in here and tell you the exact same thing that that is reasonable doubt,” she said.

Patterson reminded the jury, however, that several of the state’s witnesses who are Benton’s friends lied.

“None of those individuals told the truth when they were interviewed by police,” he said. “And none of them told you the truth when they were here in court.”

Howard, during a press conference held immediately after the verdict, said his office is considering whether or not to bring charges against anyone else.

“There were some obvious acts of perjury during the trial,” he said. “But sometimes it is just better to move on. We will talk to the family.”

Howard highlighted what Judge Bedford said in the courtroom.

“We know there is nothing we can ever do to bring her back," Howard said. "But we hope this decision brings some confidence that not only does the justice system work, but that it worked in a respectful and timely way. We feel as though justice was done.”

Now, said Franklin, she and the family can move on.

“I am grateful and satisfied. I feel like 1,000 pounds have been lifted,” she said. “Now I can move on and help other parents in my situation."

She said she is hopeful that other young people will be influenced by the outcome of this trial, resulting in an end to senseless killings.

Jurors declined interviews following the verdict.