BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - An East Baton Rouge Parish jury made up of six people found a man guilty Thursday in the so called "wrong neighborhood" trial that resulted in a family getting beaten.
The jury found Donald Dickerson, 42, of Baton Rouge, beat David Ray at a Chevron gas station near Plank and Scenic Highway in Baton Rouge two years ago. Ray's wife and daughter were also attacked.
Ray and his family hugged outside of the 19th Judicial District Courthouse after the verdict.
"There is good in the world and these guys proved it," Ray said about those who testified and went to his aide. "They didn't have to do any of the things that they did. Not only did they do the right thing, they did that plus some. It's really refreshing."
Now convicted of second-degree battery in the May 12, 2013 attack, Dickerson faces the possibility of spending the rest of his life in prison because the East Baton Rouge district attorney plans to use Louisiana's habitual offender law against him. Dickerson has previously been convicted of armed robbery, purse snatching and a sex crime involving a juvenile.
"That's a coward that's going to be off the streets forever and Baton Rouge is going to be a safer place," said District Attorney Hillar Moore. "I think that's what the statute calls for and based on his history, he's earned a chance at life in prison."
District Judge Lou Daniel will ultimately decide if Dickerson is considered a habitual offender under the law and then must decide on the appropriate sentence, which could include life behind bars. Dickerson is in East Baton Rouge Parish Prison and will have to wait until September to be sentenced.
"The defense tried to make this about race. We don't want to be the picture of racial hatred. It was never about that. We weren't uncomfortable. We stopped to get gas at a gas station," Ray added.
In closing arguments, the prosecution steered away from the black and white racial issue and said the case was simpler than that. They recounted the events that started on a "beautiful" spring Mother's Day morning and ended with a man with part of his face crushed.
"This prosecution is not about race," Assistant District Attorney Brandon Fremin said. "It's not about David Ray's race. It's not about Donald Dickerson's race."
Pointing to the defendant, Fremin told the jury, "Donald Dickerson started this mess and that's what this is - a mess."
"It's been called an altercation. It's been called a fight. It's a mess that this man caused," Fremin explained.
Fremin told the jurors a lot of the evidence and suggestions put forth by the defense was just a distraction.
"It was suggested that David Ray was the aggressor. That's preposterous," Fremin added.
"[Dickerson] was relentless. He would not stop," Fremin argued, referring to Dickerson's attack. "It took two concerned citizens out there to put themselves in harm's way to stop [Dickerson] from achieving his goal."
Fremin raised his voice and passionately proclaimed, "It's not about his race, it's about him beating the hell out of David Ray!"
The defense team then offered an hour-plus long alternate explanation of events during their closing arguments, alleging that the family was a little "jittery" when they pulled up to the gas station that night.
"I told you before that Mr. Dickerson said he had a fight with Mr. Ray," Shalita Sanders, co-defense council, admitted. "But, it's not like they painted it. Mr. Dickerson was not out looking for a fight."
"I don't know about you, but I've seen a few fights in my day and fists fly fast," she told the jury.
Sanders said Ray was stunned, but was strong enough to push his wife out of the way as she was trying to break up the fight.
A number of witnesses repeatedly pointed out Dickerson as the aggressor, but the defense maintained while he threw the first punch, Ray somehow regained his composure and footing enough to become the aggressor.
The defense suggested the two were bickering over the fact that Dickerson cut in line at the pay window and then moved on to exchanging words about Ray wearing a pink shirt.
Sanders stressed, even with the fighting, "[Dickerson] was not uncontrolled and raging."
The other prosecutor in the case, Barry Fontenot, took his opportunity for a rebuttal to point out that the defense tried to use a smoke screen to confuse the jury.
Fontenot quoted John Adams, the second president of the United States, several times, saying, "Facts are stubborn things."
Earlier in the day, the prosecution set out to prove that Dickerson intentionally caused very serious injuries to David Ray. A doctor who first treated Ray after the altercation testified Thursday that the injures were severe and worried him enough to bring in additional medical expertise.
The last witness for the prosecution told jurors that even though the defendant was the clear aggressor, he saw David Ray throw a few punches after first being hit by the defendant. The witness testified that he heard the men arguing over a pink shirt that David Ray was wearing while standing in line at a pay window outside the gas station.
A number of witnesses contradicted part of that account, saying the defendant was the only one to throw punches.
The prosecution rested its case Thursday morning and the defense quickly presented its case Thursday afternoon before closing arguments began around 3 p.m. The jury was given the case around 6 p.m. and returned with a verdict before 8 p.m.