20-year-old guilty of second-degree murder in 2012 drug-deal slaying

1:47 p.m Saturday, Dec. 19, 2015 Local

Since her 17-year-old son, Jake, was shot to death nearly four years ago in a marijuana deal gone bad, Renee Duchene said she and her extended family and friends have been serving a life sentence of pain and loss.

So, when a Palm Beach County jury on Friday rejected a first-degree murder conviction for Tyrie Theophile and instead found the 20-year-old Riviera Beach man guilty of second-degree murder in her son’s death, Duchene said she was deeply disappointed. But, then, there was no chance for a happy ending.

“There’s no silver lining here,” she said. “We’re still without our son. I just hope (Theophile) gets a long sentence.”

The jury’s verdict, which came after roughly seven hours of deliberation over two days, baffled members of Theophile’s family, who sat alongside Duchene’s in the crowded courtroom throughout the weeklong trial.

While the jurors found Theophile guilty of second-degree murder, they also found he didn’t have a firearm, didn’t kill Duchene and didn’t intend or attempt to kill Duchene.

Jurors also rejected a charge of attempted first-degree murder, instead finding Theophile guilty of aggravated battery and robbery in the January 2012 shooting of Duchene’s friend, Zachary Wolfe, after the two drove from Palm Springs to Windsor Avenue in West Palm Beach to sell a quarter-pound bag of marijuana. But, again, they found he wasn’t carrying a firearm.

“How can you say ‘no’ for everything but still find the person guilty of second-degree murder?” asked Theophile’s 28-year-old sister, who would only identify herself as LaToya. “It’s an unjust verdict.”

While she said her brother, who was 16 at the time of the shooting, “is not completely innocent,” she questioned why he was the only one charged when testimony showed as many as five people were involved. “There’s so many unknown people,” she said.

However, Assistant State Attorneys Reid Scott and Jill Richstone said the verdict was a reflection of the evidence. Text messages on Theophile’s phone showed he directed Duchene to a house on Windsor Avenue, south of 45th Street, where the drug deal was to take place. He also texted people after the shooting, saying he was in big trouble.

Further, Wolfe identified Theophile as the “kid in the red hat” who approached Duchene’s truck to buy the pot. While he initially was friendly, Wolfe testified that Theophile’s demeanor changed when he and three to five others, holding handguns, approached them, demanding all of their money and the truck.

But, Wolfe testified, Theophile was standing on the passenger side of the truck when the fatal shots were fired. An associate medical examiner testified that the shots that killed Duchene came from the driver’s side of the truck.

The jury’s verdict shows they believed Theophile was there but they weren’t convinced he was the one who shot and killed Duchene, Scott said.

Despite the mixed verdict, Scott said Theophile still faces a maximum life sentence. However, the decision facing Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Karen Miller will be complicated when she sentences him on Feb. 2.

Since he was a juvenile when the shooting occurred, he is entitled to special consideration under a state law that was passed in the wake of a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court decision that minors have to be treated differently. To sentence him to life, Miller must find that the crime was particularly heinous and Theophile has no chance for rehabilitation. Defense attorney David McPherrin estimated he would need at least four hours to make his case that Theophile deserves mercy.

Scott said he and Richstone haven’t decided whether they will seek a life sentence. Renee Duchene, who hugged prosecutors and the West Palm Beach detective who investigated the case, said she hopes they do.

“He orchestrated an ambush murder,” she said.