Family and friends of slain 15-year-old Eddie Stanley gathered on one side of the courtroom early Friday afternoon awaiting a verdict.
As the forewoman read the jury’s verdict in the murder case against James Wells, Stanley’s mother, Tanisha, other family and friends reacted with quiet emotion, listening intently, composed but close to tears.
Outside the courtroom, Eddie Stanley’s cousin Lanise Talbert spoke of her own reaction to the verdict.
“I had absolutely no doubt that he would be found guilty,” Talbert said. “I was confident that he would be found guilty of each and every count. The jury did not disappoint.”
As for what she had on her mind as the verdict was read, that was Eddie, she said.
“He basically let me know in his own way that it was going to be all right,” Talbert said, “and it was.”
The verdict was read shortly before 1:30 p.m. in a courtroom secured by more than a dozen court and corrections officers. The officers’ presence helped keep the reactions to a minimum.
Wells gave almost no reaction as the verdict was read.
Wells, 33, of Brooklyn, was convicted of all counts against him, the top count being second-degree murder. The jury found that it was Wells who killed the unarmed teenager as a party broke up at 730 Bridge St. He also was convicted of weapons possession, evidence tampering and child endangerment. He now faces up to 25-years-to-life in state prison on the murder conviction, and possible consecutive time for some of his other convictions. He is to be sentenced May 31.
Prosecutors said Wells fired four shots from a .44 Magnum revolver early June 12, 2011, killing the Schenectady High School basketball player. The shooting happened after rental car keys belonging to Wells and his friends — ostensibly security at the party — went missing and they demanded everyone at the party be searched as they left.
Stanley was shot after a fight erupted in the stairwell leading to the outside. One witness said Stanley tried to leave, ultimately punching Wells in a bid to get past him. Wells, an admitted drug dealer, responded by opening fire with his .44 Magnum, a gun Mueller has called a “hand cannon,” killing the unarmed teen.
Wells maintains he didn’t kill Stanley.
Outside the courtroom, prosecutor Philip Mueller said he only felt gratitude and relief after the verdict was read. He also referenced the effort by city police and the state police crime lab that went into solving the case and making it stand up in front of the jury.
Mueller credited the many witnesses who stepped forward to say what they saw that morning.
“I think that’s some saving grace in this awful situation,” Mueller said “I hope the family takes some comfort in that.”
After speaking with reporters, Mueller couldn’t make it back up to his office without receiving handshakes and thank-yous from the Stanley family and friends.
He also received hugs, including one from Talbert.
“I had to,” Talbert said of the hug. “A handshake wasn’t enough.”
The night he was killed, Stanley had just made his way back to Schenectady from a basketball tournament in New York City. His mother didn’t expect him back until the next day. He went with some friends to the Bridge Street address for a teenage party. The older Wells and Wells’ friends, prosecutors said, took the role of security.
After Stanley’s death, there was an outpouring of support from the community, including a series of events that honored his life and promoted nonviolence.
Stanley was a sophomore at Schenectady High School. He played basketball the season before his death on the varsity squad and was a member of the Albany City Rocks. Stanley had played basketball since the age of 6. His favorite player was the Lakers’ Kobe Bryant.
Though Wells gave little reaction as the verdict was read, he appeared to shake his head.
Wells’ defense attorney Cheryl Coleman said her client was disappointed. She had a brief conversation with him after the verdict and said she told him she would be discussing plans for an appeal.
Coleman said her client continues to deny he killed Stanley.
“I take no solace in the fact that the jury was out four days,” Coleman said. “I’m realistic. I know there were four, rather five, people who claimed to be eyewitnesses to the shooting. We knew we were going to be in a tough, tough battle.”
Coleman’s defense pointed the finger at a friend of Wells in the melee when Stanley was shot. Prosecutors said other witnesses put that friend at the base of the next floor’s stairway, far from where the shots were fired.
Jury deliberations took place over four days this week, just under 20 hours in all, after a trial that saw six weeks of testimony. Opening statements took place Feb. 7.
The verdict also came less than three hours after the jury asked for and received its only read-back of testimony. That was from Niam Dorvil, who testified he saw James Wells open fire in the stairwell as Wells and Wells’ friends broke up the party looking for the car keys. Dorvil was one of five witnesses who said they saw James Wells fire. The passage included Dorvil’s description of being searched for the keys then trying to leave, but the fight breaking out near the top of the stairs.
Dorvil ended up on a step near the bottom, Stanley on the stairs just behind him.
Wells, at the bottom of the stairs and identified by Dorvil by his street name “HO,” closed the door to the outside.
“What happened when HO closed the door?” Mueller asked, according to the read-back.
“He started shooting,” Dorvil responded.
“He put his back to the door, got out two guns and he started shooting,” Dorvil added.
Dorvil, who was uninjured, responded by dropping to the floor, “hoping that if he thought he hit me, he didn’t try to finish me off.”