It only took jurors two hours at the end of a four-week trial to find Auban Carter guilty of first-degree murder.
Carter was involved in a 2015 home-invasion robbery that resulted in the death of Kody Zawalski. Two others were critically injured in the incident, and a fourth victim was struck.
Carter was convicted Friday and was immediately sentenced to life in prison with no parole.
Levi Atkinson, who was shot and paralyzed during the shooting, told jurors what happened on January 11, 2015.
He and eight other friends were hanging out at their home when two armed gunmen came into the house demanding drugs and money. Atkinson was in the shower when Carter and his co-defendant entered the home, but he heard his brother’s voice and could tell something was wrong.
When Atkinson came out of the bathroom, he saw two men wearing bandanas over their faces – one was holding what appeared to be an assault rifle, and the other had a handgun. He told the gunmen that they didn’t have anything as his younger brother Tommy handed them a backpack.
That’s when a warning shot was fired.
“The reality of it set in,” Atkinson said, recalling that his ears were ringing. “They were actually about to shoot us.”
Atkinson told jurors that he was standing at the end of Carter’s rifle, with it pointed directly at him. Carter’s bandana mask was no longer covering his face, and Atkinson saw his face.
Carter tried to hit Atkinson with the butt of the gun, and then another shot rang out.
“That’s when Tommy got hit. He got shot in the chest,” Atkinson said.
He tried to push Carter out of the room, placing his left hand on Carter’s chest and pushing until he was through the front door. But when Atkinson turned around to run toward his brother, he heard another shot.
“I hit the ground so fast,” Atkinson said. “I instantly couldn’t feel my legs anymore.”
One of Atkinson’s friends picked him up and carried him out of the house as Carter continued to shoot at his friends – he heard at least 10 extra shots. As he was carried out, Atkinson saw his brother grasping at his wound and Zawalski lying on the kitchen floor.
Assistant State Attorney John Waters told the jury that there was a lot of circumstantial evidence linking Carter to the murder of Zawalski.
Carter was found in possession of the murder weapon and similar bullets four days after the shooting, and his cell phone was located in the area of the crime at the time it occurred. His cell phone data was extracted, and it shows that Carter accessed multiple news websites right after the shooting.
“The history showed he’d never once accessed any type of news source,” Waters said.
His co-defendant also testified that Carter took part in the robbery and shot and killed Kody Zawalski.
Five of the victims all identified Carter in court, but the defense claimed that they were lying and colluding with each other. The defense even called in an expert witness to prove that point.
But Waters told the jury that two of the victims were inches away from Carter. Atkinson echoed that during his testimony in court.
“I am 100 percent, 1,000 percent positive that’s him,” Atkinson said, choking up. “I can’t forget that. … I think about his face all the time.”
In closing arguments, Waters reminded the jury about how Carter searched news sites for any mention of the shooting shortly after he committed it.
“You never look at the news and then all the sudden do hours after the murder, and you’re found in possession of the murder weapon,” he said. “There’s no logical inference anyone but the defendant did it.”