Schenectady County

Double-murder trial concludes with hung jury

A Schenectady County Court jury deliberating in the double-murder trial of Michael Capers convicted

A Schenectady County Court jury deliberating in the double-murder trial of Michael Capers convicted him of two counts of second-degree criminal possession of a weapon Monday but deadlocked on the most serious charge.

The jury was unable to come to agreement on two counts of second-degree murder, which could mean a retrial.

Capers faces up to 15 years in state prison on the weapons counts. He is to be sentenced Nov. 18.

The revelation that the jury was deadlocked came as Sheila Pittman, mother of victim Alphonzo Pittman, sat among family and friends in the gallery. One man had his arm around her reassuringly.

It was the second time the mother has heard a jury decide against convicting a suspect in her son’s death. In July, a Schenectady County Court jury acquitted Capers’ co-defendant Jalil Miles of murder, convicting him only on weapons counts.

Capers can be retried because of the deadlock, but Miles cannot.

Pittman’s family and friends met with prosecutors after the partial verdict was read. Prosecutor Tracey Brunecz described the family as more prepared for the outcome Monday than they were for July’s verdict.

“Nonetheless,” Brunecz said, “you’re still never prepared to receive a verdict that doesn’t include guilty on murder when your son has obviously been murdered.”

After the July verdict, Sheila Pittman was overcome with emotion as she left the courtroom. Paramedics had to be summoned to check on her.

Capers, 18, formerly of Brandywine Avenue, was standing trial in the killings of 17-year-old Alphonzo Pittman and 21-year-old Virgil Terry on Hulett Street on March 26, 2010. Prosecutors argue Pittman was the target, while Terry, part of Capers’ group, was a victim of friendly fire.

The shooting itself erupted over a relatively minor argument between the two groups, prosecutors said.

Originally charged in the shooting, along with Capers and Miles, was Virgil Terry’s brother Dashaun. But he pleaded guilty to a weapons count and agreed to testify against Capers and Miles.

The Dashaun Terry deal called for a 10- to 15-year prison sentence. He is scheduled to be sentenced this morning, though it was unclear whether Monday’s development in the Capers’ case — and a possible retrial — would force a delay.

Capers’ attorney Steve Kouray said the outcome Monday was something that could have been expected, the way the prosecution’s case was presented.

Kouray, though, said an appeal is expected. One ground for appeal might be a Friday incident where the jury foreman asked to speak with the judge directly. The foreman contended another juror wasn’t following the judge’s directions, Kouray said.

Regarding Caper’s possible sentence, he said he intends to argue for a lower sentence — “I’ll have my arguments to the court on the day of sentencing why it should be less than the maximum.”

Acting Schenectady County Court Judge Frank P. Milano has already indicated that Capers would likely receive no less than 10 years.

Prior to trial, Capers rejected three separate plea offers that could have gotten him as little as 10 years in prison. In verifying that Capers wished to reject the offers, Milano explained that were he convicted on just one weapons count, he would likely do no better than the plea offers.

The decision on whether to retry Capers on the murder counts has yet to be made, Brunecz said, adding that the wishes of the victim’s family and the severity of Capers’ sentence on the weapons counts are likely to be weighed in that decision.

On his weapons convictions, Miles received the maximum, 15 years in state prison. Capers faces the same maximum, but if eventually convicted of murder counts, he would face up to 50 years to life.

The jury delivered its conviction on the weapons and deadlock on the murder counts after nearly 30 hours of deliberations held over the period of a full week, about as long as the trial itself lasted.

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