Ghazali burst toward the door past bewildered customers milling near the counter. Beverly Loverson was one. She saw Harris and the beer, and Ghazali and the gun, “and as he passed me,” she remembered while testifying on the stand this week, “I said, ‘Don’t kill him. Don’t kill him. It’s just a beer.’ ”
Ghazali spun around looking for Harris in the parking lot before spotting him bolting down the block. Ghazali took off at a sprint. He caught up and fired his gun, one, two, at least three times. Then he went back to the store.
As he walked back inside he said, “I think I shot him,” according to an arrest warrant, and returned to the cash register to ring up the next guest. He never called 911.
Two days later, Harris was found dead on the same block, collapsed in a man’s backyard.
On Thursday, Ghazali was convicted of second-degree murder, marking the end of a case that has sparked protests and boycotts and inflamed racial tensions in Memphis as hundreds mourned the African American teenager. Ghazali is set to be sentenced next month, facing between 15 and 60 years in prison.
“This defendant took it upon himself to be the judge, the jury and the executioner over a $2 beer,” prosecutor Lora Fowler told the jury, according to footage of the trial from WMC-TV.
In the immediate aftermath of the 2018 shooting, dozens of protesters swarmed the parking lot of the Top Stop Shop, calling for a boycott of the business and forcing the store to barricade its doors. Family members and friends set up a memorial for Harris on the curb and dozens attended a candlelit vigil, holding signs that read “Black Lives Matter” and “Justice for Dorian.” One sign asked, “Is it worth it?” with a bottle of Steel Reserve beer drawn in the center.
The outcry caught the attention of Bernice A. King, daughter of Martin Luther King Jr. She was in town last year for the 50th anniversary of her father’s assassination.
“Dear Memphis,” wrote King, chief executive of the King Center, “I’m here in your city. Dorian Harris should be here, too. If we don’t value black lives and believe that Dorian’s life is worth far more than an allegedly stolen beer, then we’re not authentically honoring my father.”
At the time of his death, Harris was enrolled as a ninth-grade student at an alternative high school after he spent time in the Job Corps, a vocational training program administered by the Department of Labor, the Commercial Appeal reported. He was living with his grandmother at the time, but on the night of March 29, 2018, she allowed him to stay at his cousin’s house and didn’t think anything of it when Harris didn’t come home, his grandmother Effie Fitch told the Commercial Appeal.
Numerous witnesses were in the store when Ghazali pulled the gun. None of them called 911 either, something that Loverson said she had come to regret. In the hours and days after the shooting, Ghazali never reported it, and he never complained to police about any theft.
“He just left him out there to die,” Fitch told the Commercial Appeal, “and I do believe in all my heart that if he had called the police and let somebody know that he shot somebody that my grandson would have been alive today.”
Harris was shot in the left leg, and the bullet severed a major artery, Fowler said during the trial. A neighbor who lives four doors down from the convenience store told the jury that two days after the shooting, he noticed a trail of blood in his yard, WMC-TV reported. He followed it, and found Harris’s body.
Throughout the trial, Ghazali’s defense attorney argued that his client never intended to kill Harris, that it was just a “shot in the dark.”
The attorney, Blake Ballin, argued that Ghazali was firing warning shots, the Commercial Appeal reported. He said Ghazali’s behavior immediately after the shooting indicated that he didn’t believe he could have killed the teen.
“Think about what you expected somebody to do after they have chased down and executed a person,” Ballin said, according to video of the trial. “Would they go back to work?”
The jury deliberated for less than four hours on Thursday to reach a guilty verdict following the three-day trial.
Ballin said in a statement following the verdict, “I understand why this case caused public frustration because another African American kid has been needlessly killed. But decisions of guilt and innocence and questions of intent should not be based on emotion. The defense team did our best to make sure that the jury rendered a verdict based on the facts of the case and not on the color of someone’s skin.”
Harris’s father, Hanson Peete, who lives in Alabama, told WMC-TV in an interview that he was feeling “just lost.”
“I’m lost that this murderer took my son away from me,” he said. “Why did this happen to my son? Why was he left there like that, like he was nothing?”
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