Jury finds grocery clerk guilty of murder in shoplifter shooting

Posted at 6:29 PM, Aug 17, 2019
and last updated 2019-08-17 18:30:53-04

(CNN) — A jury found a grocery clerk guilty of killing a 17-year-old boy who ran out of the store with a beer he didn’t pay for in Memphis, Tennessee, in a case that had sparked protests, authorities said.

Anwar Ghazali was convicted of second-degree murder after a four-day trial, Shelby County District Attorney General Amy Weirich said Friday.

“This defendant took it upon himself to be the judge and jury and the executioner over a $2 beer,” prosecutor Lora Fowler said, according to CNN affiliate WMC.

The shooting happened in March 2018, after Dorian Harris walked out of the Top Stop Shop with a beer without paying, Weirich said.

Security video of the incident played in court shows that Ghazali, while behind the counter dealing with another customer, pulled out a handgun and pointed it at Harris. He then ran outside to follow the teen and fired several times.

Afterward, he returned to the store and told a witness, “I think I shot him.” He did not call the police, and neither did any other customer inside the store, WMC reported.

Harris was shot at least three times and was left to bleed out, Fowler said. His body was found two days later in a yard near the store with gunshots in the back of his thigh, Weirich said.

Ghazali’s defense attorney, Blake Ballin, told CNN in an email that Ghazali maintains he acted recklessly that night but his intention was never to harm Harris.

He said they were pleased that the jury rejected the prosecution’s argument that this was a calculated and premeditated murder motivated by the theft of a beer. That would have come with a potential life sentence.

Ghazali is expected to be sentenced on September 23.

“At his sentencing hearing I expect him to express his heartfelt remorse and his hope that Mr. Harris’ family can forgive him and continue healing,” Ballin said.

Family mourns: ‘Why did this happen to my son?’

The shooting, which sparked protests outside the store, has similarities to other instances of black men shot and killed over otherwise minor incidents. Bernice King, daugher of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., linked his death to the broader issue of the value of African American lives known as the Black Lives Matter movement.

“Dear Memphis: I’m here in your city. #DorianHarris should be here, too,” she said on Twitter. “If we don’t value black lives and believe that Dorian’s life is worth far more than an allegedly stolen beer, then we’re not authentically honoring my father.”

Ballin said his defense team focused on the facts and not the emotion of the case.

“I understand why this case has caused public frustration because another African American kid has been needlessly killed. But decisions of guilt and innocence and questions of intent should not be based on emotion,” he said. “The defense team did our best to make sure that the jury rendered a verdict based on the facts of the case and not on the color of someone’s skin. That would just be another injustice.”

Harris’ family members mourned the young man after the killing and ahead of the trial.

“It shouldn’t have happened like that,” his grandmother Effie Fitch told WMC in April 2018. “He was a child and that was an adult. He ought to have more responsibility than that and he’s running a business.”

“Why did this happen to my son?” Harris’ father, Peete Hanson, said earlier this week. “Why was it that he was left there like that? Like he was nothing. Like he was a nobody.”

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