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Published: Wednesday, 5/25/2011

Jury convicts man, 20, of trying to murder north-end store owner

Eric Thompson Eric Thompson
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When Eric Thompson entered Our Food Market with a silver handgun, he wasn't wearing a mask, an assistant county prosecutor said Tuesday.

That's because he went into the East Streicher Street store not to rob or scare owner Mohammad "Mike" Abaza, but instead with the intent to kill him, the prosecutor said.

Thompson, 20, was found guilty after a two-day trial of one count each of attempted murder and felonious assault, both with gun specifications. The jury deliberated for about one hour and 15 minutes before returning guilty verdicts Tuesday.

"Eric Thompson went into that carryout on Dec. 15 with the purpose of executing Mike Abaza," Assistant County Prosecutor Lindsay Navarre said after the verdict. "He was, thankfully, unsuccessful and the jury made the right decision today."

A jury of seven women and five men heard the testimony of eight witnesses, including Mr. Abaza, who suffered multiple gunshot wounds. The longtime carryout owner told jurors that he was familiar with the two young men who had entered his store that December evening.

He described how he was shot twice in the face as he turned around to retrieve lottery tickets and a few times more as the men fled the store. He locked the door, called 911, and when police arrived, tried his best to tell them who had fired the gun, he testified.

Mr. Abaza said in court that he recognized one of the men as "Nate," a young man who had frequented his North Toledo store several times over the years. The other, he said, was familiar to him but he did not know his name. It was that other man, he said, who had the gun.

Thompson and a co-defendant, Nathaniel Lee, 20, were arrested in the days following the shooting. Lee, who faces similar charges, does not have a trial date set yet.

Attorney Gretchen DeBacker noted during closing arguments that although Mr. Abaza said he could recognize the second man, he was unable to pick him out of a photo array. She added that it was 14 days later, after being out of the hospital and back in the community, that he identified Thompson in a lineup at the Lucas County Jail.

Ms. DeBacker declined to comment after the verdict.

During closing arguments, assistant prosecutors noted that the first time Thompson's photo was shown to Mr. Abaza, his face had been "swollen twice the size" and his eyes were just "slits."

Assistant County Prosecutor Frank Spryszak also noted that Mr. Abaza testified that he didn't want to blame someone from a photo he couldn't see.

"But there was no hesitation when he stepped into the Lucas County Jail, no hesitation. He didn't have to think about it. 'That's the one who shot me,' " Mr. Spryszak said, quoting Mr. Abaza.

Thompson faces up to 10 years in prison for the attempted murder charge and up to eight years in prison for felonious assault. He also faces a mandatory three years in prison for the gun specifications.

Ms. Navarre said Tuesday that she intends to argue at sentencing that the sentences for the two counts should not merge because they were separate acts. If she is successful with that argument, Thompson faces up to 21 years in prison.

Judge Gene Zmuda set a June 15 sentencing date, at which time he also will decide whether the law requires the sentences to merge.

Contact Erica Blake at: eblake@theblade.com or 19-213-2134.

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