JURY VERDICT: Lakeland man guilty of attempted murder, facing mandatory life

Derek Maude glanced over his shoulder and looked his shooter in the eyes.

Kaheem Bennett, 24, of Lakeland.

“I saw his eyes lined up with the gun sight,” Maude said as he testified from his wheelchair. “I was sure a shot was coming soon … Next thing I know, my head is ringing. I looked down and told myself to get up, and I couldn’t.”

Kaheem Bennett fired a single shot at 27-year-old Maude that hit his spinal cord and left him paralyzed from the waist down.

A jury convicted Bennett Feb. 22 of attempted first-degree murder, robbery with a firearm, and armed kidnapping. He is facing a mandatory life sentence, which will be imposed on April 5.

Assistant State Attorney Bonde Johnson told jurors that on Jan. 25, 2015 – Super Bowl Sunday – Maude and his friends pooled their money in order to buy an ounce of marijuana for their super bowl party. He agreed to locate and purchase the marijuana. That choice is one Maude would later refer to as the “stupidest decision he’s ever made,” as it cost him the use of his legs.

While Maude was looking for a place to buy marijuana on 5th Street in Lakeland, he ran into an old friend from high school named Deshaundre Roseboro. The two went back to Roseboro’s house to catch up when a silver Dodge Charger pulled up to the curb.

In court, Maude testified that he approached the car because he thought they were going to sell him the marijuana he had been looking for earlier. He didn’t know he was about to robbed at gun point.

He got into the rear driver’s door of the vehicle occupied by three black males but left the door open with his foot out. When Maude sat down, the car swiftly left the driveway and sped down the road, forcing Maude to shut the car door.

The front seat passenger asked if Maude “wanted to see what it looked like.” When Maude said yes, a bag was thrown into the back seat, which he assumed was marijuana.

But when Maude looked up, a Tech-9 pistol was pointed at his stomach.

He reached to open the door, but it was locked. Maude immediately began to fight the rear passenger – he grabbed the barrel of the gun and head-butted the rear passenger, causing him to loosen his grip on the weapon.

Maude aimed the firearm at the floorboard with the intent of discharging the rounds, but the front passenger began to fight him. Maude continued to throw punches at the two passengers until he had possession of the gun again.

He pulled the trigger, but the weapon did not shoot. Maude, who grew up in a military family and has experience handling firearms, disengaged the safety and ejected the magazine.

It fell to the floorboard of the car.

The passengers continued fighting Maude and took the nearly $1,000 in cash that was in his possession. With Maude outnumbered, they soon regained control of the gun.

One of the men told Maude to get out of the car and run. As soon as the door unlocked, the front passenger told the driver to “bust that cracker.”

“I knew what was coming next,” Maude said in court, adding that he began to run in a zigzag pattern. “I looked back and made eye contact with the driver. All I see is a firearm pointed at me … his eyes lined up with the gun sights.”

Maude said he did not remember hearing a shot – just that he hit the ground and could not feel his legs.

“One moment I was running and the next I was laying on the ground,” he said. “There was blood everywhere … and it felt like everything fell asleep and was tingling.”

He was able to call 911 with his cell phone, but Maude testified that he began losing consciousness and said his memories of talking to police were hazy.

Officers who responded found a single 9 millimeter casing on the ground and got a description of the shooter and vehicle from Maude.

He was able to identify the front seat passenger from a photo pack as Gregory Dickens, who is a known associate of Bennett.

Maude chose two people from a photo pack to identify the driver. His first choice was Bennett, and his second was someone who looked like Bennett but was incarcerated at the time of the shooting.

Five days after the incident, police saw Bennett driving the silver Dodge Maude described, and he was arrested.

In interviews with law enforcement, Bennett said he was in Leesburg at the time of the shooting. His phone records refuted that statement and placed him in Lakeland days leading up to and during the shooting.

Bennett did not leave for Leesburg until after the shooting took place.

Further examination of the cell phone uncovered text messages linking Bennett to the crime. He texted friends and told them that the only witnesses from the shooting were Roseboro and Maude.

In court, the defense argued Bennet could not have been the shooter and that Maude’s photo pack identifications were unreliable. Bennett’s attorney said that two people did not shoot Maude, which meant he failed to make a proper identification and could not be trusted.

“Kaheem Bennett wasn’t there,” the defense said. “He didn’t do the shooting, and he wasn’t involved in the robbery.”

But Dickens – the person Maude did correctly identify – was called as a defense witness and admitted to being in the car with Maude before he was shot.

Assistant State Attorney Bonde Johnson addresses jurors during closing statements Feb. 22. Johnson held up his right arm to demonstrate how Kaheem Bennet pointed the gun at Derek Maude.

“Their own witness admitted to what happened in the car,” Johnson said, “and that supports Maude’s testimony.”

Johnson told jurors all of the evidence leads back to Bennett, meaning it was not a coincidence Maude chose his photo.

“How would Kaheem Bennett know who the only two witnesses were unless he was he driver of the car that pulled up to rob Derek Maude?” Johnson asked jurors.

“All the circumstantial evidence locks in Kaheem Bennett as the person who did this,” Johnson told jurors in his closing arguments. “His phone put him at the location. He attempted to fabricate an alibi, and his conversations show that he had info he could only know if he was there.”

“There is no reasonable doubt,” he said.