NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) — The Newport News jury deliberating the fate of a former Warwick High School student accused of murder could not agree on a verdict regarding one of the charges.
On Wednesday, the trial for Demari Batten ended on a hung jury regarding the second-degree murder charge. 10 On Your Side’s Lauryn Moss reports that jurors could not decide between the second-degree murder charge, manslaughter or finding Batten not guilty of the crime.
Batten was initially charged with second-degree murder in the shooting death of 17-year-old Woodside High student Justice Dunham. The shooting happened outside Menchville High School in December 2021 after a basketball game.
However, jurors did find him guilty on separate charges of possession of a firearm on school property, discharging a firearm on school property and carrying a loaded pistol with a magazine that could hold more than 20 rounds in public.
He was found not guilty of using a firearm while committing or attempting to commit second-degree murder.
The trial began Monday, and the case was handed to the jury around 5 p.m. Tuesday. Deliberations started Wednesday around 9:15 a.m.
Batten, who was taken into custody at the scene, claimed he shot Dunham in self-defense, after he says he was jumped.
His attorney, James Broccoletti, said the defense offered that two individuals, including Durham, planned an attack on Batten. He said there were text messages from Durham and another man’s phone two days before plotting what they were going to do.
“It was a planned attack,” Broccoletti said.
At the Menchville vs. Woodside game, Broccoletti said the men were staring at Batten. He said they were tracking Batten’s every move. Batten decided to leave the game early to avoid any confrontations.
Broccoletti said the men chased and ran after him.
“Tried to get in and almost get into the vehicle. It was a planned attack on their part. We felt that was self-defense. As I said to the jury, it was trapped by a rat. Where was he to go?”
He said wanted a complete verdict, but is overall pleased.
“Well, obviously, we are pleased that he was not convicted of the charge of homicide. We expected him to be found guilty of the weapon charges on school grounds because that was what the evidence was,” Broccoletti said.
He said the family felt the same.
“They were pleased he was found not guilty of the firearm charge because to them, it indicated that he was not guilty in the second degree. They were pleased he was not convicted of that, but they wanted him to come home today,” he said.
Batten will stay in jail pending the next court date. Broccoletti wants to continue the sentencing hearing until the case concludes. The Commonwealth’s Attorney can retry the second-degree murder charge. Broccoletti plans to file a motion to dismiss the second-degree murder charge based upon double jeopardy. He said that’s because of the jury’s decision to find Batten not guilty of the use of a firearm charge.
“In my mind, [it] says they have already found him not guilty of second-degree murder, so the charge that should only go forward is voluntary manslaughter,” he said. “I hope that we are able to convince the court because we will be filing a motion to dismiss the second-degree murder charge based upon double jeopardy.”
Justice’s father, meanwhile, told 10 On Your Side that eyewitnesses told him Justice was under attack at the time.
Correction: An earlier version of this story said the trial started Wednesday. It started earlier this week.