PANAMA CITY — Convicted of gunning down a 16-year-old with an AK-47 during a parking lot marijuana robbery plot, Demarcus Montrel Giddens now faces a lifetime behind bars.
Giddens, 22, was found guilty as charged Thursday of first-degree murder and attempted robbery after a two-day trial. Prosecutors made the case that he killed Arnold High School student Jason Ian Price during a robbery for marijuana while Giddens’ defense attorney contended that he was defending himself and friends from harm. Giddens faces up to life in prison when he is sentenced Oct. 2 before Circuit Judge Michael Overstreet.
It took jurors about two hours of deliberation before reaching their verdict.
Giddens did not react physically while the sentence was read aloud. Price’s family, however, wept as the courtroom was cleared and some of Giddens’ family member gave them embraces.
During the last day of testimony, Price’s autopsy pictures showed jurors he had been shot almost point blank outside the CVS, 7112 U.S. 98, with a pistol-style AK-47. A single bullet entered his chest at about his right armpit and angled through his body to exit his left lower back. Giddens took the stand after the autopsy pictures to claim the trajectory of the fatal wound on Price, who he called “the said victim,” was because of a struggle over the gun.
“He approaches me in a very, very hostile manner — did nothing to slow down,” Giddens told the jury. “He’s fixing to literally take the gun out of my hand. It’s survival, period. Survive and stay alive.”
Giddens told jurors that moments before that his group of friends from Auburn, Alabama — Rodney Jarquez Jones, 19, and Gertavious Canada, 22 — had run into a group of guys at the nearby Taco Bell. Giddens’ god-brother, Jones, asked to buy some marijuana from their source before relocating to the CVS parking lot to meet and conduct the transaction. Once there, 17-year-old Jon Pyle — driven by Price, who remained behind inside his truck — arrived to sell the group from Alabama an ounce of marijuana.
According to Giddens, a disagreement escalated to a physical fight between the groups and then to the point he grabbed the AK-47 from a book bag.
“I rack a round and they hear it, but it doesn’t change anything,” Giddens told the jury. “That’s when Jason hops out of the truck and fast, very fast he’s trying to get at me.”
Giddens said he backed up with the gun, ordering Price to likewise back off, until he hit a curb. At that moment, Giddens claimed, Price reached for the gun, so he fired a single round into his chest. As everyone scattered at the crack of gunfire in the night, Giddens testified he thought about staying behind.
“I ain’t never killed anyone, and I never seen no one die,” Giddens said. “I knew I wasn’t in the wrong and wanted to stay.”
However, he fled with his friends anyway.
Prosecutor Bob Sombathy called the account a fairy tale in his closing argument. The state’s position throughout the trial was that Giddens and company had come to Panama City Beach with the intention of committing robbery. They also brought the AK-47 and several magazines of ammunition in case of a worst-case scenario, Sombathy said.
“It was all designed to come down here and rob somebody, and it’s not a bad plan,” Sombathy told jurors. “What better target than a drug dealer — they aren’t going to go to the police. The only reason we’re here today is because someone got killed.”
Sombathy called Giddens’ friends to testify to the theory.
But defense attorney Kim Jewell in her closing arguments reasserted Giddens had been defending himself. Price was unarmed at the time of his death, but Jewell pointed out the law that danger does not have to be actual, only perceived, to be real. She highlighted Giddens’ life experience as growing up in the “projects” of Auburn.
“He has a different perspective,” Jewell told the court. “Something that may look one way to us is completely different in his eyes. He sees this stuff every day and that’s why his head is on swivel and on his guard.”
Jewell then called into question Giddens’ co-defendants in an attempt to discredit their testimony.
In the first day of trial, Jones and Canada implicated Giddens in the killing. Canada told the jury that he watched as Giddens drew the AK-47 from the book bag and demanded the marijuana from Pyle. Canada said he did not stick around for the gunfire to start.
“Everybody was talking at once ... and he was like ‘give the s*** up,’ ” Canada told the jury. “As soon as I heard that gun cock, I ran because I was scared.”
Jones told the jury that Giddens had unveiled his plot to rob the group beforehand. As they fled the scene and went to change clothes, Giddens showed no remorse, he said.
“He looked at me and said ‘f*** that n*****, bro,’ ” Jones told the jury. “I told him he was tripping.”
Both Jewell and Sombathy attempted to claim the physical evidence from Price’s fatal wound as a credit to their respective cases. Jewell said the angle showed Giddens was retreating and lifted the gun in self-defense. Sombathy said it showed Price was crouched at the time he was felled.
The jury sided with the prosecution.
Sombathy concluded that while many of the co-defendants’ motives were questionable, Price’s intentions the night of his death were noble.
“A lot of testimony has been about drugs but that nothing has to do with Price,” Sombathy added. “He just had his friend’s back. … That’s all he did was run out there to get his friend’s back.”
Canada and Jones accepted plea agreements in exchange for their testimony against Giddens. Canada will receive four years for his role, while Jones will be sentenced to 20 years. Giddens, who has four previous felony convictions, is expected to receive life in prison.