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Friday, January 11, 2019 1:00 am

Guilty verdicts in Easter slaying

Jury convicts on charges of murder, use of gun

MATTHEW LEBLANC | The Journal Gazette

Jurors on Thursday convicted a Fort Wayne man in a brutal Easter morning shooting that left a 26-year-old man dead.

Tyrion McNair, 25, shot Javon Burnett 13 times that morning but fired his gun at least 20 times, prosecutors said.

Burnett was found face-down around 10 a.m. April 1, between two buildings outside The Summit at Ridgewood Apartments near Memorial Coliseum. He was there to pick up a car so he could join his mother at church.

The jury – nine women and three men – deliberated for about 41/2 hours before delivering to Allen Superior Court Judge Fran Gull a verdict on the murder charge. Jurors also returned a guilty verdict on a sentencing enhancement for using a gun to commit the crime.

“Easter Sunday, ladies and gentlemen,” Allen County Deputy Prosecutor Jeff Stineburg told jurors before they left the courtroom on the third day of the trial to decide McNair's fate. “Easter Sunday. The defendant, Tyrion McNair, murdered Javon Burnett, on Easter Sunday.”

A motive for the slaying remains unclear.

Joshua Smiley, 21, drove McNair to the apartment complex and said he thought they were there to buy marijuana.

Maybe there was a dispute over the drugs, Allen County Deputy Prosecutor Tom Chaille said.

“Maybe it was over drugs,” he said. “It doesn't matter. (McNair) still did this.

“Why? Only he knows. It doesn't matter. It's senseless, regardless.”

Murder carries a penalty of up to 65 years in prison, and the firearms enhancement could add 20 years behind bars. A sentencing hearing is scheduled Feb. 1.

Residents of the complex testified in court this week they saw someone leave a gray or silver car in the parking lot and go to the side of a building, where Burnett was killed. Shots rang out, and the same person ran back to the car before it sped away, they said.

McNair's cellphone was later found in the parking lot.

The case centered on testimony from Smiley, who also had been charged with murder after he and McNair were arrested in July but pleaded guilty last week to a lesser charge as part of a plea agreement with prosecutors. McNair had a gun – a 9 mm Glock taken from a friend – and tossed bullets from the weapon out the window as they drove away from the scene in a rented silver car, Smiley said.

Despite that testimony and the eyewitness accounts, defense attorney Ryan Gardner told jurors that no one saw McNair kill Burnett. None of the complex residents was able to identify McNair as the shooter, he said.

“Did they see him pull the trigger? No,” Gardner said. “Can they even identify who he is? No. None of the witnesses have said, 'I saw him, and that's Tyrion McNair.'”

Jurors sided with prosecutors, and McNair – dressed in the white shirt, blue vest and loose tie he'd worn throughout the three-day trial – did not react as Gull read their verdict around 3:45 p.m.

He was handcuffed and walked silently out of the courtroom.

Burnett's mother and father described their son as a happy-go-lucky guy with a great smile.

“He made everybody smile and laugh,” Daryl Burnett Sr. said. “Never a dull moment.”

A former Fort Wayne reserve police officer who now lives in Sarasota, Florida, he said he often came back to northeast Indiana to visit family, including his son.

“When I come home every 30 to 40 days, I look for him,” Burnett said. “I was ever so happy (with the verdict). Justice is served.”

Cynthia Gardner, Burnett's mother, was the first witness prosecutors called to the stand in McNair's trial. She said Thursday the past few months have been difficult but said she's been leaning on family and her faith to move forward.

“It's been sometimes – unreal,” Gardner said. “(Javon) was charismatic. Anybody he met, they liked him. He didn't like drama or conflict. He just wanted everybody to be happy.”

Though he was found guilty in the murder case, McNair's legal troubles continue.

He was indicted in April on federal drug charges for allegedly selling an FBI informant thousands of dollars worth of methamphetamine, court documents filed in U.S. District Court in Fort Wayne allege.

A pretrial conference is scheduled Jan. 22 in that case.

Smiley, the man who drove McNair to the apartment complex where Burnett was killed, is expected to be sentenced Jan. 29 to three years in prison on a charge of assisting a criminal.

mleblanc@jg.net