A man has been found guilty of a lesser charge in the brazen murder of a Palm Coast man in Daytona Beach
A man who police say was one of the shooters in a daytime incident on a busy Daytona Beach road last year was found guilty Wednesday of the lesser charge of manslaughter with a firearm.
Jerome Henderson, 21, who listed an address in Jacksonville, was on trial for first-degree murder, which carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison.
Investigators said Henderson was one of two shooters who opened fire last year on Taj Butler, 24, of Palm Coast.
The jury deliberated for about six and a half hours before agreeing on the lesser charge of manslaughter with a firearm, which carries a penalty of up to 30 years in prison. After a recess, the jury deliberated for about 15 minutes before finding Henderson guilty of being a delinquent in possession of a firearm, which carries a penalty of up to 15 years in prison.
Circuit Judge Dawn Nichols will sentence Henderson at a later date in Volusia County District Court in DeLand.
Outside the courtroom, Butler’s family expressed their disappointment and disbelief at the manslaughter ruling.
“They went after my child,” said Jadisola Brown, who walked out of the courtroom shortly after the lesser charge was announced.
One juror, who agreed to speak to The News-Journal as she was leaving the courtroom, said a majority of the panel was in favor of a first- or second-degree murder conviction, but she and some other jurors were not convinced.
“I feel the prosecutor did not present sufficient evidence to prove him guilty of first-degree murder,” she said.
Drive down busy Daytona Beach Road
The killing occurred due to a dispute over a dog.
It came to a deadly end on May 31, 2023, when Butler was driving through Daytona Beach. Henderson and Devonte Smokes were following him in a black Kia Optima, police said. A red Jeep Wrangler rented by Corey Crooms appeared to follow the Kia until it turned south onto North Nova Road, a report said. Kia continued after Butler.
Butler was stopped in a line of traffic shortly before 2 p.m. near the intersection of Bellevue Avenue and South Nova Road when a Kia pulled up alongside his car.
Smokes pulled a .45-caliber handgun out the car window and began shooting Butler, Assistant State’s Attorney Mark Interlicchio said. Henderson pointed the 9mm out the window and began shooting, Interlecchio told jurors.
Butler was shot multiple times and later died in hospital. Two bullets led to death, a 45-caliber wound in the torso and a second wound in the neck. But investigators were unable to determine the caliber that caused the neck wound.
The Henderson case was the first to go to trial. Smoak, 30, and Crooms, 38, were also charged with first-degree murder.
Two hours before Butler was shot, a witness told police that Crooms told Henderson to wear a mask and grab a gun; Reports indicated that he distributed masks to Smoke and another man. But only Henderson, Smokes and Crooms were charged in the shooting.
During cross-examination by defense attorney Tony Thomas, Henderson denied shooting and killing Butler.
“Jerome, did you shoot and kill Taj Butler?” – asked Thomas.
“No,” Henderson said.
“Have you ever been in a black Kia?” – asked Thomas.
He said: “No, sir.”
Henderson said that on May 31, Crooms asked him to ride with him and another man in a red Jeep, which he did. He said they only drove the car for a few hours and went to vacuum the car. He said they also got something to eat. Later that night, Crooms dropped him off at the apartment, he said.
The jury watched a video of Daytona Beach Police Detective Colleen Howell interviewing Henderson about the shooting. In the video, Henderson initially denies his involvement.
Henderson then asked Howell to turn off the video recorder, so he could tell him about a problem he had with Crooms.
Once the video was replayed, Henderson changed his story. In a video interview, Henderson said that when they pulled up to Butler’s side, Smokes fired several shots at Butler. Henderson said he also fired several 9mm rounds.
But Henderson testified Wednesday that his confession shown in the video was untrue. Henderson said he was just repeating what Howell told him about the shooting. Henderson said Howell told him he could be released in several months in time to see the birth of his daughter if he cooperated.
“Shall I convince you to confess to first-degree murder as a way to help you?” – Interlecchio asked.
“Yes, sir,” said Henderson.
Interlicchio told Henderson he said he did not see the red Jeep before May 31. But Interlicchio showed him a still from a May 29 video of Henderson picking up the Jeep from a rental place.
Interlicchio challenged Henderson on how he knew all the “intimate details” of the shooting. Henderson kept saying Howell told him.
Henderson said police are trying to say he was the shooter.
“You said you were the shooter,” Interlecchio replied.
“That was a lie,” Henderson said.
Interlicchio called Howell back to the stand and the investigator denied coaching Henderson on what to say. He said he replayed the video when Henderson began providing details of the shooting himself.
Howell told Henderson he was in a position to help himself with the situation and similar statements.
Thomas, Henderson’s defense attorney, told the jury the officer was suggesting Henderson would receive some sort of benefit. Thomas also said false confessions do happen.
The juror who spoke to The News-Journal said she did not blame the police officer, but she felt Henderson was under the impression he would get some sort of “favoritism.”
This article originally appeared in the Daytona Beach News Journal: A man has been found guilty of a lesser charge in the brazen murder of a Palm Coast man