Jurors on Friday rejected prosecutors’ contentions that the killing of Dolla, whose real name was Roderick Anthony Burton II, was a callous act of apparent revenge.
Burton and his accused shooter, Aubrey Louis Berry, had been involved in a fight at an Atlanta club less than two weeks before the shooting last May.
Berry’s attorney had contended the shooting was an act of self-defense, emphasizing that Burton — a protege of hip-hop artist Akon — glorified a violent gangster lifestyle in his rap lyrics and online videos.
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Berry, who has remained jailed since the May 18, 2009, shooting, hugged his attorney but was otherwise unemotional after the verdict.
Burton’s mother, Dayna Robinson, sobbed.
“Oh please, somebody help me,” Robinson said, as she and other family members filed out of the courtroom.
Deputy District Attorney Bobby Grace painted Berry as a killer who methodically aimed at Burton during the shooting, then ordered a valet to retrieve his rented sport utility vehicle while still clutching his gun.
In his closing arguments Monday, Grace claimed Berry had no remorse.
“Defendant Berry murdered Roderick Burton in cold blood, then tried to escape to Atlanta,” Grace said.
Berry brought the gun to a business lunch at the mall. The men spotted each other at a restaurant and exchanged words in the valet area. It was then, Grace said, that Berry pulled his weapon and used it “as an instrument of death in a symphony of violence.”
Grace said Berry drove around Burton as he was dying and began to plot his escape.
Defense Attorney Howard Price, however, painted a very different picture of Berry, who was soft-spoken last week as he testified about a series of incidents that led up to the shooting.
The college-educated Berry said he worked in commercial marketing, in the music industry, and “never killed anything” growing up. Price portrayed Burton, conversely, as someone who proclaimed a violent streak, bragging in his lyrics about carrying guns, singing “You be running when I shoot, I be shooting where you running” in one tune.
Price said Berry opened fire because Burton threatened to kill him and he feared he had a gun. The 24-year-old Atlanta resident was fearful because he believed the rapper had gang ties.
The jury on Friday found Berry not guilty of first-degree murder and all other charges, including assault with a firearm.
Grace looked dazed after the verdict was read.
“Obviously, I’m disappointed,” he told reporters.
When asked about Burton’s gangster image, Grace said he hoped that wasn’t the tipping point for the jurors.
“I would hate to think that the jurors’ decision was based solely on lyrics,” he said. “It appears they believed what the defendant had to say.”