The last moments of General Hurst's life - forever captured on the surveillance video of a convenience store - show a young man who was ready to celebrate, not someone looking for a fight, a Lucas County Common Pleas Court judge said yesterday.
Judge Ruth Ann Franks noted Mr. Hurst's happy demeanor on New Year's Eve before she sentenced the man who killed him to life in prison.
She pointed out that although the 22-year-old victim did not testify at the trial of Charles Rodriguez, his actions on the video "screamed of what was going on."
Rodriguez, who claimed self-defense during his four-day trial, was convicted by a jury last week of murder with a firearm specification. He will be eligible for parole in 18 years.
"There is no question, Mr. Rodriguez, that this was a senseless death," Judge Franks said before imposing sentence.
She then paraphrased prosecutors who said during closing arguments that evidence doesn't lie, people do, and pointed out that the jury of six men and six women heard two versions of what happened that night and did not believe the defense's notion that Rodriguez was protecting himself.
"It was clear [on the videotape] that [the victim] went into that store with no knowledge that his life was about to end as he exited that store," she said.
"Although he certainly didn't testify in this court proceeding, he testified in that video."
During the trial, several witnesses testified that Mr. Hurst was beaten by Rodriguez and then shot in the back as he tried to run away.
Prosecutors presented a case of a jealous Rodriguez who believed Mr. Hurst was "messing" with the mother of his children.
April Lutts testified on Rodriguez's behalf, saying that she did not have a relationship with Mr. Hurst but had told Rodriguez she did in an effort to make him jealous.
Prosecutors pointed to this belief as the reason why Rodriguez pulled a loaded 45-caliber handgun from his pants and shot at the fleeing Mr. Hurst until he ran out of bullets.
Often disruptive throughout the trial, Rodriguez apologized to Judge Franks for his behavior, telling her that he didn't want her to think poorly of him but instead excuse him because he was "just angry."
Later, flanked by five uniformed sheriff's deputies and several court deputies, he was forced out of the courtroom after making threatening comments to the victim's father.
"See you in 20," he said as he passed Gabriel Burgete. "This ain't over and I still got money."
Mr. Burgete said later that Rodriguez's outburst showed "the kind of person he is."
Tearful as he read a statement about his son to Judge Franks, Mr. Burgete said his son had a big heart and constant desire to help others. Family members wore T-shirts and buttons showing a smiling Mr. Hurst with his 4-year-old daughter, Gaibriella.
"I'm going to go to every single parole hearing," Mr. Burgete promised after the hearing. "I wish it was straight life" in prison.
Defense attorneys Don Cameron and Tonya Carr said their client obviously was "dissatisfied" with the verdict and planned to appeal.
Mr. Cameron called the incident a tragedy, noting that both Rodriguez and Mr. Hurst were young men who lived dangerous lives.
"Unfortunately, I see that the victim here and Charles were not very far apart in who they were," he said, pointing out that both young men had guns on them that night and both were known to be in possession of drugs.
"It's a terrible street tragedy."
Rodriguez's family and friends, including Miss Lutts, were escorted quickly from the courtroom.
Later, Miss Lutts' sister, Dora, spoke about the "hell" her sister has gone through since being accused of starting the lie that ultimately led to Mr. Hurst's death.
She said Mr. Hurst was a good man, adding that there were others who were suffering as a result of his death. "April is the one who has to explain what happened to these kids," she said of Rodriguez's four children, ages 5, 2, 1, and 4 months.
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