Iowa Jury Apparently Agrees Killer Was Afraid

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An Iowa teenager was found guilty on Thursday of second-degree murder and manslaughter in the deaths of two students he shot at a Des Moines alternative school earlier this year. Preston Walls, 19, had been charged with first-degree murder in the deaths, but jurors found him guilty of lesser charges. That seemed to indicate jurors accepted Walls’ claim that he fired on the students because he feared for his life, the AP reports. Walls was charged in the deaths of Gionni Dameron, 18, and Rashad Carr, 16, at the Starts Right Here program on Jan. 23.

Walls also was found guilty of willful injury causing serious injury for his shooting of Will Keeps, a former Chicago gang member and rapper who started the Des Moines program for at-risk teens. He was acquitted of attempted murder in the shooting of Keeps. If Walls had been convicted of first-degree murder, he would have faced a mandatory sentence of life in prison. His convictions of second-degree murder in the death of Carr and voluntary manslaughter in the death of Dameron mean he will be eligible for parole. Walls will be sentenced in November.

Defense attorneys acknowledged Walls killed the two students and shot Keeps, but they argued he did so because he believed his own life was in danger. Walls was to graduate from the program two days after the shooting and said he thought Dameron and Carr would attack him when he left school because they wouldn’t have an opportunity later. Defense lawyers noted during trial that Dameron was armed with a gun at the school on the day of the shooting. “I was scared to walk out of that school at 1 o’clock. They waited outside the school for me before,” Walls told jurors. Starts Right Here reopened within weeks of the shooting, and Keeps returned despite lingering injuries.

(Read more Iowa stories.)

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