A Halifax County Circuit Court jury comprised of 10 women and two men took approximately three hours Friday night to find 21-year-old Tequan Jamal Watson not guilty of the murder of Paul Damiano, the aggravated malicious wounding of Devan Wooding and of two charges for use of a firearm in commission of a felony.
The charges arose from a shooting incident on Sandy Beach Road on Feb. 28, 2018, and the trial for Watson took all of four days starting Tuesday.
The jury received 36 instructions before beginning deliberations around 6:30 p.m. Friday.
The defendant took the stand Friday and admitted to his attorney, Jason Anthony, his initial statements to police immediately after the shooting were not true but that he was telling the truth on Friday.
Watson told Anthony that Wooding had contacted him some time before the shooting and asked if he had any guns for sale.
“I told him no,” said Watson, adding Wooding was initially talking about doing a “lick,” street slang for a robbery, but he added the pair later concocted a plan where they would burglarize an unoccupied house on Sandy Beach Road.
Watson, driving his cousin’s car, went with Wooding to the home of 16-year-old Paul Damiano in the Cluster Springs community on the evening of Feb. 28, 2018, not once but twice, after seeing a vehicle in the driveway of the supposedly unoccupied house on Sandy Beach Road.
Watson testified the trio returned to Damiano’s house to retrieve a gun before returning to the Sandy Beach Road house they intended to burglarize.
The defendant admitted in his testimony to willingly driving to get a firearm for the purpose of committing a home invasion, and upon returning they discussed whether to go forward with it.
Watson said ultimately he wanted to back out, and Wooding and Damiano challenged him.
Damiano and Wooding stepped to the rear of the car, according to Watson, who said he heard a gun click, and he reached into the door panel and put his firearm in his jacket pocket before exiting the car.
The defendant testified Wooding asked him to come to the back of the car, and as he approached, Wooding pulled out a pistol and fired, but the gun malfunctioned.
“I heard a click,” said Watson, who added he noticed Damiano next to Wooding with his hands in his jacket pocket.
“I was going down and expecting to get shot. I was defenseless,” recalled Watson.
Watson said he pulled his weapon out and fired toward Wooding and then Damiano, before running off and firing back over his shoulder.
“It all happened so fast,” said Watson, adding he was in defense mode. “I didn’t want to hurt anyone that night. When I shot my gun, I wanted to defend myself and prevent bodily harm.”
Under cross-examination, Watson admitted to commonwealth’s attorney Tracy Martin it was his idea to burglarize the house, not Wooding’s idea, as he had indicated in his initial statement to police.
Another fabrication, Watson told Martin, was there were two men in black hoods who fired at them and were responsible for the killing of Damiano and the wounding of Wooding.
Martin, throughout her cross-examination of Watson, seized upon Watson’s changing narrative of the incident, particularly after evidence surfaced to implicate him in both the shooting of Wooding and Damiano, to suggest he was “adapting his testimony to fit the emerging evidence.
“His single purpose was to distance himself from the crime and accountability,” said Martin in her closing arguments. “He can’t keep his story straight.”
Watson, after realizing police had physical evidence pointing to him as the shooter, had to adapt his story to fit the situation, and a big part of that was his claim of self-defense, according to Martin.
Anthony, in his closing statement, said Wooding was less than truthful in his statement to police regarding the shooting incident, pointing to snap chat postings from Wooding and his criminal record.
Anthony also pointed to a failed robbery attempt the day before involving Wooding and Damiano, where they and another person shot up a car with the driver still in it, as proof of their tendency toward violence.
“These boys were monsters in your community,” Anthony told the jury, citing earlier testimony from a 15-year-old relative of Watson’s who got shot in the leg in her home while holding a baby. He introduced social media evidence that pointed the finger at Wooding for firing the shots at her home.
The entry and exit wound created by the bullet that hit Wooding on the night of the shooting indicates Wooding had his arm upraised in a shooting position, as his client testified, according to Anthony.
Watson had a split second to defend himself, Anthony argued.
“No law or jury instruction says they can shoot at my kid (Watson) without an opportunity to defend himself,” Anthony told the jury.
However, in a statement following the trial, Martin said, “The defendant was charged and tried for murder, because he shot and killed 16-year-old ‘PD.’ He was charged and tried with aggravated malicious wounding because he shot and severely injured 19-year-old Devan Wooding.”
Anna Bowen, crimes against juveniles specialist for the commonwealth, assisted Martin in prosecuting the case.
“The shootings occurred against a backdrop of the defendant and the two victims having planned to commit a home invasion together,” said Martin. “The defense presented evidence that the defendant shot his two confederates in self-defense.”
Although not adopted by the commonwealth, the evidence of self-defense clearly created a reasonable doubt in the minds of the jury as to the defendant’s guilt, according to Martin.
The prosecutor also said an earlier news report stating PD had an air gun that he pointed at the defendant was not correct.
Watson testified Wooding pointed a weapon at him, and he did not know what “PD” (Damiano) had, and he shot them both, according to Martin.
“PD had an air gun that night, but no version of the facts indicated that he pointed it at anyone,” added Martin.
“The commonwealth pursued these charges with vigor because of the paramount need for public safety in our streets and our intolerance for acts of violence, even against violent people,” she continued.
“When a jury has reasonable doubt, it’s their sworn duty to acquit,” Martin noted. “This was a difficult case. This is what our jury system was built to do. “When the commonwealth and the defense cannot agree on the facts of the case or appropriate outcome, a jury must decide,” said Martin. “For this case, the jury has done so, and I am thankful for their service.
“My heart goes out to the families hurt by this event,” she concluded.