CROWN POINT — A Lake County jury decided Friday a Gary man was acting in self-defense when he fired 16 rounds into the Hobart Walmart last year and acquitted him of three of four charges.
Alex C. Hughes, 27, of Griffith, testified during this week's trial he feared for his life and the life of his girlfriend when he shot 26-year-old Kyran J. Hawthorne Sr., of Gary, four times in the calf, back, thigh and lower leg Sept. 30, 2018.
Jurors deliberated for about four hours Friday before finding Hughes not guilty of attempted murder, aggravated battery and criminal organization activity, according to the Lake County prosecutor's office.
The jury convicted Hughes of a level 5 felony count of criminal recklessness for shooting into the Walmart, shattering a window at a Burger King restaurant attached to the store.
The verdict means Hughes will not face two firearm enhancements, defense attorney Russell Brown said.
The sentencing range on a level 5 felony is one to five years in prison. Hughes' sentencing is set for Dec. 18.
Hughes testified he feared for his life
When jurors began deliberating about noon Friday, they were tasked with deciding whether Hughes was "hunting" an alleged member of a rival gang or acting in self-defense when he fired 16 shots at the Hobart Walmart last year.
Another man in Hawthorne's group, who was not called to testify during Hughes' trial this week, also fired a number of shots during the confrontation. One of them struck Hawthorne's then-9-year-old son, attorneys said.
Hughes took the stand Thursday, testifying he recognized Hawthorne while inside the Walmart and immediately feared for his safety and the safety of his girlfriend. Hughes' girlfriend, Shaqueta Wright, took the Fifth Amendment on Wednesday and did not testify during the trial.
The law says a person has a right to use deadly force when faced with an imminent threat of great bodily harm, Lake County Supervisory Deputy Prosecutor Michael Toth said in closing statements. But the law doesn't give someone the right to go on attack, either, he said.
Hughes fired eight rounds at Hawthorne when Hawthorne was already wounded, running away and unarmed, he said.
"I ask you to see through the claims he made, which were a mile wide and an inch deep," Toth said.
Toth said it was OK to hate Hawthorne's friend for shooting a child, but the evidence showed it was the friend — not Hughes — who fired a gun in self-defense.
Hawthorne was "no angel," but that didn't make it OK for Hughes to continue shooting at him after any threat he may have posed ended, Toth said.
Brown said Hughes knew Hawthorne by the nickname "Killa K."
Hawthorne had a reputation for shooting people, and Hughes legitimately feared for his and Wright's safety after encountering Hawthorne inside the Walmart, he said.
Hughes initially told Wright he wanted to stay in the store, so Hawthorne's group would not see their car.
"So he's trying to stay in the Walmart checkout area," Brown said. But Wright wanted to leave, so Hughes "follows her out, like any respectable man would do," Brown said.
Hughes testified he saw Hawthorne and others walking his way and noticed Hawthorne's friend reaching for his hip area, Brown said.
"What Killa K didn't know was Alex had a gun in his car," Brown said. "And thank God he did, because if not Alex Hughes would not be sitting here today. Shaqueta Wright would not be sitting here today. They both would have been leaving the Walmart in body bags."
When does right to self-defense end?
Toth displayed a diagram and used a pointer to review for the jury the trail of spent bullet casings at the Walmart in relation to surveillance videos of movement by Hughes, Hawthorne and other witnesses.
"Nine, 10, 11, 12. There goes the Burger King window. There's your criminal recklessness, " Toth said, counting off gunshots fired by Hughes as he walked in front the Walmart entrance Hawthorne passed through moments before.
Videos showed Hawthorne, his friend and others — including his son — veered right toward Hughes' car after exiting the Walmart, walking away from their vehicle.
"They keep running, and (Hughes) keeps advancing, advancing, advancing," Toth said.
"He abandons the idea of the guy with the gun," Toth said. "He abandons where (Hawthorne's friend) is. He's going after Kyran Hawthorne."
Brown disputed Toth's position that the number of shots fired diminished Hughes' ability to claim self-defense.
Several police officers testified they are trained to shoot "until the threat is neutralized or the clip is empty," Brown said.
"If law enforcement officers are allowed to do that, so is Mr. Hughes," he said.
Toth said police officers are trained to shoot until a threat is neutralized or until the clip is empty, but not both.
"You don't get to neutralize the threat, but still empty the clip," he said.
If that were the case, then Chicago police Officer Jason Van Dyke would not have been convicted in 17-year-old Laquan McDonald's murder, he said.
Brown said evidence showed Hughes' fears were justified, because police stopped several of Hawthorne's associates in the Walmart parking lot after the shooting. They had an AR-15 with 39 rounds in their car.
"The threat was still there," Brown said. "That threat had not been neutralized until he got out of that parking lot."