Man convicted in gunfire incident outside Butler Plaza theater

Published: Friday, August 23, 2013 at 9:59 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, August 23, 2013 at 9:59 p.m.

A 20-year-old man who authorities say opened fire on four moviegoers outside the theaters at Butler Plaza on Jan. 6 was convicted Friday of second-degree attempted murder and conspiracy to commit aggravated assault.

Shortly before 8:45 p.m. Friday, after less than four hours of deliberations, jurors reached their guilty verdict. Sentencing is scheduled for Oct. 10.

On Jan. 6, police say 20-year-old Zairon Jarquis Fussell of Miami opened fire on four moviegoers who were on a double date at the Butler Plaza theaters, located at 3101 SW 35th Blvd. in Gainesville. Police said Fussell fired at the four because he believed one person in the group had tripped him.

The six-person jury made up of two women and four men listened intently late Friday afternoon as attorneys made their closing arguments in the courtroom of Circuit Judge Ysleta McDonald at the Alachua County criminal courthouse.

State Attorney Adam Urra summarized two days of witness testimony, saying that all four alleged victims testified to being inside the theater when Fussell and a friend entered and Fussell began accusing the group of tripping him.

One victim, Amber Richardson, said the group denied tripping Fussell but admitted to arguing with him when he refused to leave them alone, Urra said. At one point, Fussell allegedly asked his friend, Robert Morris, to go back to Morris’ apartment to retrieve a gun and then, according to testimony, issued a warning to the foursome: “I got you after,” Urra said.

Minutes after the initial argument, at around 10:30 p.m., Fussell allegedly sent a text message to confirm that he really wanted Morris to bring the gun back. Morris returned with the gun and has been charged with conspiracy for his actions.

After the movie, the victims testified that Fussell resumed the argument, following the group outside. Video footage from the theater showed Fussell near the group wearing a black T-shirt with writing on it and camouflage shorts.

According to Urra, one of the victims, Brian Richardson, said that, as he neared his car, he turned around to face Fussell, finally wanting to fight, but Richardson said Fussell didn’t move toward him. Instead, Richardson said, Fussell backed up and retrieved a gun from his shorts, saying “don’t run now” as he cocked the gun and fired a single bullet allegedly aimed at Brian Richardson’s chest. At 12:45 a.m., Amber Richardson dialed 911 and said someone was shooting at her.

Morris and a third friend of Fussell’s fled in the vehicle they came in, according to testimony. Fussell fled on foot and, cellphone records indicate, made it back to Miami by the next afternoon.

Defense attorney John Ramsey called the case against Fussell circumstantial.

Gainesville police never recovered a bullet or shell casing from the scene, he said. The state’s key witnesses were the victims, and thus not impartial, Ramsey said. No independent observer reported seeing the shooting, Ramsey added.

Ramsey also made issue of Amber Richardson not recognizing Fussell in a photo lineup, although in court she identified the defendant as the shooter. She also identified the clothing he was seen wearing in the video footage. But some in the group did not know what the lettering on his T-shirt said, according to testimony.

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