At the beginning of the trial, Charles Robinson shouted across the courtroom at the man accused of killing his 2-year-old son, Amias.
Then, after Ellis Royster was convicted of first-degree murder Wednesday, the judge gave Robinson the chance to talk.
This time, the Charlotte father spoke in even tones.
“Be a man,” he told Royster, who prosecutors say mortally wounded the child as he sat in his stroller while gunfire erupted over a $10 drug deal.
“Own up to this. All you’ve done is run. I want you to man up. Take responsibility for what you’ve done.”
Royster, 25, stared at Robinson but did not respond.
Moments later, Superior Court Judge Robert Bell gave the former Central Piedmont Community College student the mandatory life sentence without parole.
Royster’s attorney, Richard Tomberlin, said the verdict will be appealed.
“I’m happy,” Robinson said as he walked from the courtroom to join his family.
Was he surprised by the verdict?
“Not at all,” he replied.
The eight-day trial closed with surprising speed. The jury of eight women and four men took less than two hours to convict.
“This was a hard case,” Assistant District Attorney Jay Ashendorf said afterward.
During the police investigation, the truth eventually “came to the top,” the prosecutor said, “and that’s what came to the top during the trial.”
Amias was shot Aug. 12, 2010, on Eastbrook Road in northeast Charlotte. He died four days later.
No weapon has been found, and early accounts from neighborhood witnesses contradicted each other.
Police originally arrested Royster. But within hours they also charged Alvin Alexander, a crack dealer who had grown up on Eastbrook and, according to testimony, “owned” his old neighborhood.
Witnesses had blamed both men. Police initially believed the accounts that put the gun in Alexander’s hands. Royster was released.
Two months later, police reinterviewed several of the witnesses and new ones stepped forward.
Most of them now placed Royster in the driveway of his grandmother’s home, firing a 9 mm pistol at a passing car driven by a teenager who Royster believed had stolen $10 from a friend who wanted drugs.
One of the shots ripped through Amias’ stroller, which was in the yard next door. Introduced as evidence, the stroller spent most of the trial covered in thick, brown paper.
Before beginning his closing argument Tuesday, Ashendorf unwrapped it and rolled it up to the jury.
Not that far apart
Two men had been charged in the case. But in the end, the jury believed Alvin Alexander more than Ellis Royster.
Both testified: Alexander said Royster fired the shots; Royster told the jury he heard the gunfire from his bedroom.
After the verdict, prosecutor Ashendorf said Alexander’s “candor” as a witness had been a key part of the case.
“The jury is made up of people,” Ashendorf said. “They can tell when you’re telling the truth and someone is lying.”
Defense attorney Tomberlin questioned why police didn’t thoroughly investigate Alexander, particularly the 9 mm pistol the crack dealer told a girlfriend to hide after his arrest.
After getting the case late Tuesday afternoon, the jury discussed the evidence, then took two quick votes before being sent home for the night.
“We weren’t that far apart,” said foreman Joseph Granieri of Charlotte.
The 12 members held a third vote first thing Wednesday. They had a verdict. Granieri said the jurors then spent 30 minutes “contemplating whether we had done the right thing.”
In the end, he said, “We felt like most of the evidence pointed in one direction.”
They were surprised Royster testified. “Everybody placed him at the scene, except himself,” Granieri said. “We found that odd.”
When the guilty verdict was announced, tears quickly appeared in the eyes of several women sitting behind Royster.
On the other side of the room, the dead child’s mother, Armisher Glenn, rose and gave a high-pitched wail. She left the courtroom with other family members, one woman saying, “Thank you, Lord. Thank you, Jesus” as the group disappeared through the door.
Neither Royster nor Robinson, the father who had lost his son, showed any emotion. Robinson said his piece to Royster, thanked the jury, then left the room to rejoin his family.
Out in the hallway, Glenn walked into his arms. “I told ya, baby,” he said as they hugged. “I told ya.”
Soon, they had company. Charra, the couple’s daughter, who was born not long after Amias’ death, came bouncing up against them.
She turns 2 next month. Staff writer Neil Haggerty contributed.