published Saturday, August 3rd, 2013

Hamilton County jury finds Hawthorne guilty of murder; sentenced to life

Jerrico "Ri-Ri" Hawthorne sits in Judge Rebecca Stern's courtroom during a trial on charges against him in the slaying of 23-year-old James "J Money" Williams Jr. in this file photo.
Jerrico "Ri-Ri" Hawthorne sits in Judge Rebecca Stern's courtroom during a trial on charges against him in the slaying of 23-year-old James "J Money" Williams Jr. in this file photo.
Photo by Angela Lewis /Chattanooga Times Free Press.
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Martha Moore sat huddled in court with other family members as the verdict was pronounced against the man who killed her son. After the word “guilty” was read, she covered her face with her hands and family members embraced her.

A jury of six men and six women deliberated for 10 hours before finding 26-year-old Jerrico “Ri-Ri” Hawthorne guilty of first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder and felony murder, among other charges, in the 2011 slaying of 23-year-old James “J Money” Williams Jr.

Hamilton County Criminal Court Judge Rebecca Stern sentenced Hawthorne to life in prison on the murder charge; sentencing on the other charges, including especially aggravated robbery and attempted especially aggravated robbery, will take place Oct. 7.

“A life for a life. That’s what he deserves,” Moore later said outside the courtroom.

As the verdict was read, other women sitting a few rows ahead of Moore became emotional. One began whimper and had to leave the courtroom.

Hawthorne turned around and told the women, “I love y’all.” They said they loved him as court officers urged them to leave the courtroom.

Moore believes Hawthorne had ill feelings toward her son since they were teenagers. Many people in the neighborhood knew her son carried lots of cash because he was a known drug dealer. Drugs were found inside the home at 2305 E. 17th St. when Williams was killed. No cash was found.

Hawthorne, a Gangster Disciples gang member, was convicted of shooting Williams to death during a robbery on July 27, 2011. Williams arrived home with his girlfriend, Yetta Harris, and was ambushed by two men.

Williams sustained 14 gunshot wounds. Before he died, he identified the gunman as “Ri-Ri,” according to testimony.

Harris had three gunshot wounds and spent weeks recovering in the hospital. The case hinged on her eyewitness testimony as well that as her teenage son, Jeffrey Dunnigan, who was home when the shooting occurred. Harris and Dunnigan picked Hawthorne out of a photo lineup.

Assistant District Attorney Lance Pope said the eyewitness testimony and identifications made in a police lineup were the strongest evidence.

Hawthorne’s defense attorney, Amanda Dunn, brought in an eyewitness testimony expert who testified that police improperly conducted the photo lineups.

“Mr. Hawthorne is exceptionally disappointed and maintains his innocence,” Dunn said. “We feel there were several issues that created reasonable doubt.”

Pope conceded the police procedures could have been executed better.

“In the heat of it, during the course of the investigation, I think the jury found [the detective’s] actions appropriate and that he had found the right person who committed the homicide,” Pope said.

Hawthorne was convicted of two counts of aggravated assault in 2008. Two attempted first-degree murder charges were dismissed in the same case, according to court records. He has other pending charges for evading arrest, possession of a handgun with felony convictions, theft and aggravated assault, according to court records.

“[He] never should have been released back into society,” Moore said.

Hawthorne’s co-defendant, Deangelo “Fookie” Justice, a fellow gang member, is set to go to trial Aug. 8 in Stern’s court. Moore is hoping for a guilty verdict against him, too.

“I feel James will get justice,” she said.

Contact staff writer Beth Burger at bburger@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6406. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/abburger.

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