The fourth was acquitted on all counts.
The defendants were arrested after police said they attacked 36-year-old Joshua Chellew, beating him until he was unconscious and leaving him in a busy, five-lane road, where he was eventually struck by a car and killed on June 30, 2013.
Surrounded by more than a dozen Cobb Sheriff’s Deputies, the four defendants were silent and stoic Wednesday while Cobb Superior Court Judge Adele Grubbs read the jury’s verdict. However, once the court was adjourned and the deputies began putting handcuffs on the defendants, the courtroom became a scene of chaos.
One of the defendants repeatedly yelled he didn’t do anything and had to be restrained by the deputies before being led out of the courtroom. Some of those in the courtroom’s gallery shouted support for the defendants as they left.
In the fracas, it was hard to tell which of the defendants was yelling because they were surrounded by deputies.
Johnathan Anthony, 19, Antonio Pass, 20, and Jekari Strozier, 21, all of Mableton, will receive mandatory life sentences because they were convicted of murder, according to Jesse Evans, the deputy chief assistant to the Cobb district attorney, who tried the case on behalf of the state.
The fourth defendant, Kemonta Bonds, 22, was found not guilty on all counts and will be released.
Evans said he respects the jury’s decision.
“We’re pleased that the jury convicted the three most culpable defendants of murder,” he said. “As to the other defendant, while we had hoped for a different result, we recognize that he was probably the least culpable of the four. And I have to respect the jury’s verdict as to him, as does the victim’s family.”
The four men were each charged with malice murder, six counts of felony murder, one count of aggravated assault, one count of aggravated battery and four counts of violating the Georgia Criminal Street Gang, Terrorism and Prevention Act in the death of Chellew.
On that night, the defendants were gathered at a Chevron gas station on Mableton Parkway near Veterans Memorial Parkway. According to a release from the District Attorney’s office, Chellew arrived at the gas station at about 1 a.m. and held up a blue bandana in front of the defendants.
The convicted men took offense to Chellew’s actions because they are allegedly members of the “Re-Up” gang, which wears red, the release states. The convicted men attacked Chellew and chased him into Mableton Parkway, where they beat him until he was rendered unconscious. Chellew was left in the street, where he was later struck by a vehicle and killed.
During his closing argument, Bonds’ attorney, Thomas Griner, argued his client did not participate in the beating and said the state could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt Bonds did anything wrong. Bonds’ presence at the scene of the crime did not necessarily show Bonds committed a crime, Griner said.
A date has not yet been set for the sentencing hearing, but attorneys for both the state and the defendants requested two weeks to prepare.
Because the judge can choose to combine the sentences associated with some of the lesser crimes, Evans said the DA’s office needs time to do some research before he comments on what the state will seek in terms of sentencing.
“First thing that we need to do is look at, legally, which counts are going to merge into each other,” he said. “So, we have to look at the law first.”
Anthony, Pass and Strozier face a maximum sentence of life in prison without parole, according to the release from the DA’s office.
Evans said Grubbs will have the option of whether or not to give the defendants the possibility of parole.
The convicted men will have a chance to appeal the jury’s verdict, however.
“For all murder cases in Georgia where there’s a conviction on murder, there’s an automatic right to appeal to the Supreme Court of Georgia,” Evans said.
First, the defendants’ attorneys must file a request for a new trial. These requests are typically denied, Evans said, and it is this request which will be appealed to the state’s high court.
The justices can decide not to hear the case, which is essentially a denial of the request, or hear the case and make a decision.