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Thursday, August 15, 2019 5:54 pm

Guilty verdict in South Harrison Street shooting

Antoine Kelley Jr. faces up to 85 years in prison

Matthew LeBlanc | The Journal Gazette

Jurors needed more than six hours today to convict a Fort Wayne man of murder in the shooting death of a friend who was staying at his home in April. 

Antoine Kelley Jr., 28, shot Darius McMorris four times inside a house on South Harrison Street. Police found McMorris, 23, face down in a bathtub April 1. 

Witnesses said Kelley might have been "tweaking on drugs" and was acting strangely before the killing, according to court documents. A woman identified as "Witness 7" in a probable cause affidavit told police another witness said Kelley believed McMorris had "taken him for $300."

Defense attorney John Watkins argued in a three-day trial that his client was defending himself. Kelley believed his life was threatened, Watkins said. 

It was a claim that jurors carefully considered, and Watkins and prosecutors outlined for them specifics of the state's law on self-defense. That was after almost five hours of deliberations. 

Watkins said it was reasonable to believe Kelley felt threatened and had to use force. Allen County Deputy Prosecutor Tom Chaille – before jurors left the courtroom for another hour – said Kelley could have left the bathroom where McMorris was killed through a nearby exit or the front door, which was "a straight shot."

"You don't get to say, 'This guy's reaching into his pocket, therefore I get to kill him,'" Chaille said. "This was not a kill or be-killed situation."

Jurors agreed and, around 5 p.m. returned a verdict finding Kelley guilty of murder. They also agreed with prosecutors he used a gun to commit the crime, a sentencing enhancement punishable buy up to 20 years in prison. 

Kelley faces up to 85 years in prison. A sentencing hearing will be scheduled Aug. 29. 

mleblanc@jg.net