A unanimous jury vote of not guilty exonerated Evan Donard Winston, 22, of the two murder counts alleged against him.
Winston was found guilty of three remaining charges, including attempting to possess more than an ounce of marijuana and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony.
The verdict came shortly before 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, after nearly seven hours of deliberation by the seven men and five women that made up the jury.
Two of the verdicts were unanimous. The exception was count 4, aggravated assault, in which a majority of jurors voted to convict Winston of the lesser included charge of reckless conduct.
Winston's legal counsel, Atlanta attorney Mawuli Davis, said that the victim's family, who was present Tuesday, has the Winston family's "absolute condolences."
"This was obviously a terribly unfortunate incident with an awful result, and they have our absolute condolences on what happened," Davis said. "But I believe the jury got it right. They were attentive throughout the process and I think saw that my client was not responsible for this incident."
Since Winston was found guilty of three crimes, he was taken back to Carroll County jail after the verdict was read.
Blackmon granted Winston a $5,000 bond, ordering him to return on April 18 for sentencing on his three convictions.
Winston, of Lithonia, was accused of fatally shooting 21-year-old Kevin Woods in September 2011.
In October of that year, he was indicted, along with two other co-defendants, on the offense. Roudolphe Germain Jr. and Egim Chris Etta-Tawo were the two co-defendants named in the indictment.
Germain pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter last December, receiving 15 years in prison as his sentence.
Senior Assistant District Attorney Jeff Hunt, who prosecuted the case, said Etta-Tawo is expected to plead guilty to drug and conspiracy charges later this month, having his murder charge dismissed in consideration of his testimony in Winston's trial.
The defendant testified Friday, telling the jury he was not responsible for Woods’ death.
“I’m sorry for what happened, but it’s not me,” said Winston, who is from Lithonia. “I didn’t do this.”
Winston said he, Germain and Javier Cook had gone to Chateau Apartments on Hay’s Mill Road in Carrollton that Friday for a Labor Day weekend cookout. At the cookout, he had planned to meet with Etta-Tawo, Woods and the deceased’s brother, Branden Woods, to purchase marijuana.
The defendant testified that he was sitting in the car with Etta-Tawo and the Woods brothers when an altercation began over the price and quality of the weed.
Winston said that at one point during the argument, Branden Woods, who was seated in the front passenger seat, took out a gun and aimed it at him. At that, Winston grabbed the .38 special revolver he’d had on his hip, which he said he’d brought to the cookout because he was going out of town for several days afterward.
Upon seeing Winston’s gun, Etta-Tawo grabbed the defendant’s arm and jerked, causing him to fire one round through the rear passenger door.
Winston testified that he heard more shots but did not know who was shooting. His friend who had followed him to the car, Germain, was out of his line of vision — presumably somewhere behind him.
Throughout the trial, Winston’s legal counsel, Davis and his Carrollton associate, Suellen Fleming, attempted to establish for the jury that Germain had fired the fatal shots at the driver, Kevin Woods, through Winston’s open door.
The trial began last Tuesday with jury selection, lasting a total of five days. Jurors stayed late into the night Friday, hearing closing arguments from the attorneys before retiring to return yesterday morning.