A Fayette County jury on Wednesday acquitted a Lexington man of all charges in a fatal shooting that happened when he was 17 years old.
Antonio Canada, 21, will walk free four years after he was charged with the murder of 19-year-old Sean Howard, attorneys said. Canada also was charged with robbery. The jury was given the option on Wednesday to convict Canada of murder, manslaughter or reckless homicide. Jurors ultimately determined Canada hadn’t killed Howard and wasn’t guilty of robbery either.
“We are pleased that the jury listened to both sides and gave the best result possible,” Bonnie Potter, Canada’s lead attorney, said in a statement provided to the Herald-Leader Wednesday night. “Mr. Canada went to jail a boy and will get to return to his family tonight and start his life as a young man.”
Howard was shot and killed in Lexington on Aug. 5, 2017. Howard was sitting in a car with three other people at the corner of Richmond Road and South Locust Hill Drive near the Kroger store when he was shot, according to police and court statements.
Both prosecutors and Canada’s defense team acknowledged the people in the car were conducting a marijuana sale when the shooting happened, but Canada didn’t have anything to do with the deal.
Prosecutors alleged Canada was trying to shoot and kill someone else in the car named Austin McPherson. McPherson was in the driver’s seat when the shooting happened. Canada was angry with McPherson because Canada bought a phone from McPherson for $50 only to discover the phone didn’t work, according to prosecutors.
Prosecutors told jurors that Canada, who wasn’t in the car, walked up and demanded that McPherson give him his “stuff.” Prosecutors tried to prove that Canada then fired one shot and hit Howard instead of McPherson.
When he was arrested and charged, Canada was a minor, so he wasn’t publicly identified by police.
Witness inside the car identified Canada as the shooter
Witness Mayan White was in the car buying marijuana from Howard when Howard was shot, according to statements made in court. White also identified Canada as the shooter when he was questioned by police.
White said he was in the back seat and had the door open when the shooter came up to the car and reached over him to fire the gun.
McPherson also spoke with police and gave a similar story to White’s, but he told them he couldn’t tell who the shooter was.
Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Amanda Naish argued in court that Canada was angry over the broken phone. Prior to the shooting, he called McPherson to try to get his money back, Naish said. But McPherson told Canada he had already spent it. McPherson said he’d have to give the money back to Canada later. McPherson then blocked Canada’s calls, Naish said.
Naish said Canada talked to other people who knew McPherson to try to find him. Prosecutors showed Facebook messages which Canada sent to someone who knew McPherson.
“I’m gonna beat his a** when I see him,” Canada wrote in one of the messages.
“ ... I’m gonna hurt that man. He done f****d up,” Canada wrote in another message.
Police found the gun they believed was used in the shooting. Canada didn’t have it at the time, but Kentucky State Police investigators had matched the 9 mm firearm with shell casings taken from the scene of Howard’s death.
Prosecutors said the gun had been stolen. The original owner knew Canada but didn’t know him closely, according to court statements.
Investigators found 9 mm bullets in Antonio Canada’s sister’s home, according to court statements. Canada was living with his sister when the house was searched.
‘Antonio has no link to that gun’
Potter said in court Wednesday that prosecutors hadn’t identified a clear link between Canada and the gun. He wasn’t the original owner, there wasn’t evidence he stole it and he didn’t have it when police found it, she said.
She also argued that prosecutors hadn’t proved Canada shot the gun or was even on the scene despite White identifying Canada as the shooter. She said she didn’t believe Canada had anything to do with Howard’s death.
Potter said Canada was just a kid “blowing off steam” when he sent Facebook messages saying he wanted to hurt McPherson. No one would’ve killed someone else over a $50 phone, Potter said.
She said White, “the (high school) star basketball player,” had too much to lose when he was being interrogated by police and “told them what they wanted to hear.”
“He wanted to go home,” Potter said of White.
Naish said White’s mother and grandmother were at the police station when White was questioned, and they wanted him to tell the truth. She also said White was shown a photo of someone who wasn’t Canada and told police they weren’t the shooter. Naish said he wouldn’t have done that if he just “wanted to go home.”
“Somebody killed Mr. Howard, but it wasn’t Antonio,” Potter said in court. “Mr. Howard was killed because he was selling drugs, and I’m sorry about that.”
Naish said in court that efforts to tie the shooting to the drug deal were a “distraction.”
Potter also questioned why prosecutors didn’t present more evidence at the trial. She said prosecutors presented results from gunshot residue tests on McPherson and White’s hands, but they didn’t test for gunshot residue on any of Canada’s clothes. They also didn’t present evidence of DNA testing from the car, Potter said.
Potter also questioned why police didn’t track cell phone locations for the teens.
“I’m really sorry for the Howard family loss,” Potter said in court Wednesday. “ ... It’s a tragedy, it really is. To lose your son – I can’t imagine. That doesn’t change the fact that Mr. Canada didn’t shoot Mr. Howard.”