Jury acquits pair in Riviera Beach drive-by shooting that injured two

A Palm Beach County jury on Thursday acquitted two men of attempted murder charges in connection with a July 9 drive-by shooting in Riviera Beach that injured two people, including a female cousin of one of the men who lost her leg because of the shooting.

Artavius Walker and Kwamaine O’Neal, both 28, could have faced up to life in prison had the jury convicted them in the double shooting in the 1600 block of West 11th Street, just north of M.L.K. Jr Boulevard and east of Congress Avenue, but jurors returned the not guilty verdicts after less than an hour of deliberations.

Defense attorney Kevin Anderson, who represented Walker, of Riviera Beach, said after the verdict that the reason for the jury’s exoneration was simple.

“I think they completely dismissed the investigation,” Anderson said. “It was a poor investigation, and at best an amateur show.”

Both Anderson and O’Neal’s attorney, Abigail Langweiler, attacked the Riviera Beach police investigation of the shooting, pointing out that forensic investigators with that department said they could recover no DNA from the truck allegedly used in the shooting, while Palm Beach County sheriff’s deputies were able to recover samples from the same truck and excluded both defendants as possible matches.

Anderson, who said both men had alibis for the time of the shooting, told jurors in closing arguments Thursday that it was particularly disturbing that police were unable to pull a single fingerprint — neither the defendants’ or anyone else’s — from any of the truck’s door handles.

“If you don’t even get anything from the door handle, then that should call everything else into question,” Anderson said.

Anderson said a touching moment in the trial came when one of the victims, Tressirla Lurry, took the stand wearing a prosthetic leg and told jurors that O’Neal, of Lake Worth, was her cousin. Lurry’s injury from the shooting had forced doctors to amputate her leg.

Both defendants also took the stand in their own defense, with O’Neal recalling emotionally how he and his cousin grew up together and adding that he would never have put her in harm’s way.

The other victim, Shephon Coley, is a convicted drug dealer who had been shot twice before the July 9 shooting, Anderson said. The lawyer said that Coley had a reputation on the street for being a thief who targets drug dealers, and he may have been about to attempt another robbery when he was shot.

Coley, 27, has convictions dating back to 2010, including felony gun and marijuana and cocaine possession with intent to distribute charges.

Coley, who has accumulated at least nine gunshot wounds from the three attempts on his life, said he got to the hospital by waving down a passing motorist who took him to the hospital.

But Anderson said another witness testified that she saw Coley amble down a nearby path and get into an awaiting vehicle. Anderson said the driver, a woman who dropped Coley off at the hospital and later returned wearing difference clothes, was not a witness in the trial but told police who questioned her at the hospital that she didn’t know Coley.

In her closing arguments, Assistant State Attorney Adriana Lopez tried unsuccessfully to convince jurors that the defense’s criticisms were distractions from evidence she said proved both men were guilty.

“If the facts in the case go against you, what else can you say, aside from attacking the investigation?” Lopez asked jurors.

After the acquittals, Circuit Judge Cheryl Caracuzzo ordered both men to be released from the Palm Beach County Jail.

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