Jury finds teen guilty of capital murder
After deliberating almost four hours, jurors found 18-year-old Labyron Jaffar Warren guilty of capital murder Friday afternoon, Sept. 14.
With a week’s worth of testimony from 20 witnesses and a small truckload of evidence to back them up, prosecutors say justice has been done.
Warren was convicted Friday for shooting and killing Lamar University nursing student Dang Minh Nguyen during a nighttime robbery at Van’s Grocery in 2010. Nguyen was shot in the head at close range, according to testimony Wednesday, Sept. 12, by a forensic pathologist who showed jurors gruesome photos of the victim.
Tuesday, jurors were shown equally gruesome photos of the crime scene, full of sneaker footprints tracked through Nguyen’s blood and scattered cash. Among the evidence key to the prosecution’s case were bullet fragments pulled from the skull of Nguyen, which prosecutors attempted to link to Warren and a .38 special revolver.
Firearms expert Bradley Bruns told jurors Wednesday that, while he could not rule out the fragments as having come from the revolver the prosecution says killed Nguyen with Warren at the trigger, the expert could not prove the fragments came from the gun either.
A friend of Warren’s who was with him in the moments after the robbery took the stand, testifying crack cocaine was common within their group. The man said he angrily warned Warren not to follow Shawn Nelson, Preston Addison and Melvin Lucien, who are also suspects charged in the robbery.
Nguyen’s family was noticeably absent from the courtroom while Warren’s family members were present and vocal.
Wrapping up Wednesday’s testimony was Warren’s 16-year-old brother. Prosecutors hoped to pit blood against blood after the brother spoke to investigators on videotape in 2010 — when the boy was 14 years old — and more recently Monday, Sept. 10. The boy denied the prosecutor’s claims that Warren had told him he might be able to get away with the murder if police didn’t pick up the trail soon, becoming visibly emotional as prosecutors grilled the boy and chastised him for looking at his brother, the defendant, while answering questions. Assistant District Attorney Pat Knauth said he was taken aback by the boy’s reluctance to testify but wouldn’t let that stop him from seeking justice.
“I was surprised and disappointed in him,” he said in an interview with The Examiner.
Warren’s defense attorney, Tom Burbank, said the prosecution’s case was flimsy and putting a minor on the stand was a mistake. He said, “What does a 14-year-old do when you have six or seven police officers in a room … trying to interrogate you?”
Burbank’s last-minute witnesses, two sisters and lifetime friends of Warren’s, said Warren was with them at the time of the robbery. The sisters testified as to Warren’s good character, prompting Knauth to pounce on the opportunity to submit Warren’s prior record, which was previously inadmissible in court.
In a somewhat bizarre but passionate closing argument, Knauth admitted the revolver previously shown to jurors as the murder weapon was probably not the weapon used to kill Nguyen.
“I don’t think it was this gun,” he said. “It might’ve been.”
Knauth said based on circumstantial evidence and testimony from a known drug addict, jurors should nonetheless find Warren guilty.
With the guilty verdict, Warren now faces life in prison without the possibility of parole.
"He would have to serve at least half of his sentence before parole is a possibility ... at least 40 years," said John Stevens, the judge presiding over the case in Criminal District Court.