No eyewitnesses. No video of the shooting. No admissions. No jailhouse informants.
A Douglas County jury deliberated eight hours Tuesday and Wednesday before convicting Teon D. Hill of first-degree murder and two weapons counts in the Dec. 12, 2013, death of Virgil Dunn, 34, a hard worker known to walk and bike the neighborhood where he was killed. Hill, a three-time felon, will receive a life sentence — the automatic term for first-degree murder — when he goes before the judge in April.
Prosecutors secured the conviction in a case built entirely on forensic evidence.
“As technology advances, we’re going to see more and more cases that are solved through circumstantial evidence, especially forensic evidence,” said prosecutor Jim Masteller, a deputy Douglas County attorney. “Different cases have different strengths. And in this case, we had very strong forensic evidence.”
That evidence included:
» Surveillance video of Dunn, who had spent the day helping a friend move, purchasing beer and cigarillos from a Rhythm and Booze store. He left the store at 9:55 p.m.
» Audio of Dunn’s killing via ShotSpotter — a high-tech, military-style gunfire-detection system that recorded six rapid-fire shots at 9:59 p.m.
» Dunn riddled with six bullets and found bleeding on the sidewalk outside a house at 28th Avenue and Pinkney Street when police arrived at 10:02 p.m.
» A Philadelphia Phillies baseball hat, found in the street 82 feet from Dunn’s body. Inside the hat: Hill’s DNA. The chance of it being anybody but Hill: 1 in 1.94 quadrillion. (That’s 15 zeroes.)
» A gun found two months after the killing. Police pulled over a car driven by a woman, with Hill in the passenger seat and a child in the back seat. Underneath Hill’s seat: the revolver used to kill Dunn.
Still, the case was no slam dunk. Hill’s attorney, Assistant Public Defender Cheryl Kessell, pointed out that the state could not put on the stand any witnesses who had reliable descriptions of the two robbers seen running from Dunn. And, she pointed out, the hat could have been dropped at any time before Dunn was shot. She also pointed out the presence of two other people’s DNA profiles on the murder weapon found under Dunn’s seat.
As the verdict was read, Kessell and others were mystified by one twist: After declaring Hill guilty of first-degree murder, jurors found him not guilty of weapon use but guilty of weapon possession for the Dec. 12, 2013, robbery.
“I’m confused,” Kessell told the judge.
Judge Kim Pankonin accepted the verdict nonetheless.
Later, prosecutors addressed the confusion. Masteller said jurors likely found Hill guilty of first-degree murder under the felony murder law that holds accomplices accountable if someone dies in the commission of a felony such as robbery. They acquitted on the weapon-use count because they couldn’t say for sure whether Hill was the shooter.
So how did they find him guilty of possessing a weapon that day?
Masteller speculated that the jury believed that Hill had handled the gun the day of Dunn’s death, even if he didn’t fire it. (Two jurors declined to comment to a reporter.)
As the verdicts were read, Hill dropped his head and let out a long sigh.
On the side of his neck: a tattoo with the letter P on it.
It was another piece of physical evidence to which Masteller and fellow prosecutor John Alagaban had pointed. Though the P on his neck was in the font of the Pittsburgh Pirates, it was still a large capital P, not all that different from the Phillies hat at the scene.
The gunshot-detection system provided prosecutors with another piece of evidence: Dunn likely had turned and run away from the robbers as he was confronted, Masteller said. ShotSpotter detected 7 feet between the first shot and the sixth — meaning the gunman was advancing toward Dunn.
And then there were the chilling sounds recorded by the system. Bam-bam-bam-bam-bam-bam. Ripping the cold night air.
“You just heard someone get shot and killed,” Masteller told jurors.
It was powerful evidence, especially when combined with the images of Dunn checking out of the store just 4 minutes earlier.
And it was a disturbing crime, when you consider that Dunn hadn’t done anything to deserve his fate, Masteller said.
He moved from Milwaukee to Omaha after his mother died, about 18 months before his own death. Troy Dunn described his cousin as a productive person who worked for Troy Dunn’s asphalt company in Omaha.
That day, Virgil Dunn had helped another relative move — and was paid in pizza, beer and $40 cash.
Hill and his fellow robber — authorities haven’t been able to arrest anyone else — took Dunn’s wallet and what little petty cash was in it.
“His cousin described him as a nice, quiet person who kept to himself,” Masteller said. “He wasn’t a man of means — he didn’t own a car. He was just a productive person who, when he was off work, walked and rode his bike where he needed to go.
“This was a crime of opportunity. The defendant and his accomplice saw him to be an easy mark — and they took advantage.”
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