Summit County jurors didn’t buy Darnell Bitting’s claims that he thought he was under attack and was aiming at no one when he fired an AK-47 that claimed the life of a 4-year-old Akron girl.
After deliberating for more than four hours, jurors found Bitting guilty Friday afternoon on all counts in his murder case for the February death of Janaya Swain.
Bitting, 32, of Akron, showed little reaction as he heard the verdicts read. He faces life in prison when he is sentenced at 1 p.m. Wednesday by Summit County Common Pleas Judge Christine Croce.
Family members of Janaya who attended the trial shook their heads in agreement as they heard the jury’s decision. Several of Bitting’s family and friends sat through the trial but weren’t in court for the verdict.
Jurors convicted Bitting of two counts of murder and six counts of felonious assault for Janaya’s death and the potential harm to her mother, three sisters and the children’s grandmother. All of the charges include gun specifications.
Bitting’s trial began Monday and finished Friday morning with closing arguments and jury instructions.
After the trial concluded and deliberations were starting, Bitting’s friends and family members began shouting at Janaya’s family outside the courtroom. Tensions were high between the two groups throughout the trial, with two of Bitting’s supporters ejected from the courtroom Thursday for making comments during testimony.
Prosecutors say De’azha Swain, Janaya’s mother, went to Bitting’s Mercer Avenue home about 10:30 p.m. Feb. 16 to retrieve her belongings. The two of them had dated but were on the outs. Swain got angry when Bitting didn’t answer the door and began smashing the windows of his home.
Prosecutors say Bitting grabbed an AK-47, ran out onto the porch and fired the weapon at Swain, but the bullet missed her and hit Janaya, who was sitting in the family’s car parked in front of Bitting’s home with her three siblings and grandmother. Janaya was hit in the head and died.
“He wasn’t in fear for his life,” Assistant Prosecutor Teri Burnside said during closing arguments. “His actions were intentional.”
Assistant Prosecutor Elizabeth Jackson told jurors, “Darnell Bitting killed a baby. That’s why we’re here.”
Defense attorneys Colin Meeker and Michael Bowler, however, claimed Bitting thought he was under fire when Swain smashed his windows and fired his rifle once as a warning shot.
“No one told you he was aiming at anyone specific,” Meeker said.
Bitting testified Thursday that he was in fear for his life and that of his children — thinking someone was shooting into the windows of their home — when he fired the rifle from the doorway. He said he didn’t see anyone and had no idea who was in the car in front of his home.
Croce, however, didn’t allow the inclusion of self-defense in the jury instructions. She said Bitting’s explanation didn’t match the forensic evidence, including where the spent shell casing was found on the far edge of the front porch.
After the verdict, Bowler said this was a difficult case to defend, especially with a 4-year-old girl as the victim. Jurors saw graphic photographs and police video of the young girl’s injuries.
“The jury worked hard,” Bowler said. “The prosecution had a strong case. The jury has spoken.”
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