- Associated Press - Saturday, June 14, 2014

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) - A Memphis man could receive the death penalty after a jury convicted him Saturday of killing his girlfriend and her parents in a shooting rampage more than two years ago.

A 12-person jury found Sedrick Clayton guilty of three counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of his girlfriend, 23-year-old Pashea Fisher, and her parents following an argument in the Fishers’ home on Jan. 19, 2012.

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against Clayton, 31, who had no prior adult criminal record aside from traffic violations before the shootings. The jury will decide if Clayton deserves death, life in prison, or life in prison without parole during a sentencing hearing that began Saturday afternoon.

Before the trial, Clayton offered to plead guilty in return for serving three consecutive life sentences without parole. Shelby County District Attorney Amy Weirich rejected the offer.

Authorities say Clayton got into an argument with Fisher before shooting her parents, Arithio and Patricia Fisher, and then her. The parents were killed in their bedroom, and Fisher was shot dead near the front door.

Police say Clayton’s 4-year-old daughter Joydin was in the house at the time, and that he took her with him before turning himself in hours after the shooting. The girl, now 6, was a key witness at the trial.

Fisher’s relatives hugged and prayed outside the courtroom after Shelby County Criminal Court Judge Carolyn Wade Blackett read the verdicts. Clayton also was convicted of two weapons charges and attempted murder for firing at Fisher’s brother, who also was in the house at the time of the early-morning shootings.

Defense attorney Gerald Skahan said Clayton was not surprised by the verdict.

“We knew it was an uphill battle all the time,” Skahan said.

In closing arguments, Skahan said evidence showed the shootings were not premeditated and were done in self-defense. The shootings were instigated by a fight Clayton had with Pashea Fisher’s father over the issue of her infidelity.

A police lieutenant who interrogated Clayton after his arrest said Clayton told him Arithio Fisher kicked him in the chest, and he began shooting out of fear.

“It was the heat of the moment and I panicked,” Clayton said in his statement to Memphis police Lt. Darren Goods. “I apologize. … I didn’t mean to hurt nobody.”

Prosecutors Karen Cook and Jennifer Nichols countered by telling the jury that Clayton shot three unarmed people in cold blood. Nichols portrayed the Fishers as a hard-working, close-knit, church-going family that was destroyed by Clayton. Nichols said Clayton could have just left the house without shooting anybody.

Instead, Clayton fired 12 shots, hitting the victims nine times, prosecutors said. Clayton shot and broke down the bedroom door to get to his girlfriend’s parents before shooting her at close range.

“If somebody kicks you, you don’t get to get your gun and wipe out the man’s family,” Nichols said.

Jurors heard a chaotic, frightening emergency call in which Pashea Fisher begged Clayton not to kill her parents. The call also included pained groaning by one of the wounded parents, loud screaming from Joydin Clayton and two gunshots that silenced Pashea Fisher.

Joydin wore a red, white and blue dress when she testified Friday. She acknowledged that her father shot her mother and grandparents and said she did not want to go with her father after the shootings.

During the sentencing hearing, Nichols told jurors Clayton should be executed because he committed mass murder. She defined mass murder as the killing of three people during a single criminal episode or during a 48-month period.

Skahan, the defense attorney, pointed to Clayton’s prior offer to plead guilty as a factor that would allow jurors to give him life in prison or life in prison without parole.

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