A New London jury on Tuesday found Evan J. Holmes guilty of forcing his way into an apartment at 252 Montauk Ave. on Nov. 12, 2011, and fatally shooting Jorge "Loco" Rosa in his bed.
Holmes, 22, faces a maximum of more than 100 years in prison when Judge Barbara Bailey Jongbloed sentences him Dec. 3 in Superior Court, according to prosecutor Paul J. Narducci. In taking the case to trial, Holmes rejected an offer from the state to plead guilty in exchange for a 45-year prison sentence.
The 12-member panel deliberated for three days before announcing the verdict in open court with several members of Holmes' and the victim's family present. Some of the spectators looked surprised when the jury forewoman announced the panel had found Holmes not guilty on the first count, which was murder. But the forewoman went on to say the jury found Holmes guilty of the lesser offense of first-degree manslaughter with a firearm, which carries a maximum sentence of 45 years.
The jury also found him guilty of felony murder, which carries a sentence of up to 60 years, and of home invasion, conspiracy to commit home invasion and first-degree burglary, charges which could add decades to his sentence.
The judge, asked by the defense to render a verdict separately on the count of criminal possession of a firearm by a previously convicted felon, said the state had met its burden of proof and that Holmes was guilty as charged. Defense attorney William T. Koch Jr. had asked the court to try that charge so that the jury would not be unduly prejudiced against Holmes. The panel did hear during the trial that Holmes had been released from prison just eight days before Rosa was killed, but were not told he had served an 18-month sentence for an unrelated shooting.
Rosa, who was 25, is survived by a large, close-knit family and a 6-year-old daughter. The girl, who is now 8, was present in the courtroom for the verdict. Rosa's mother, Bridget Feliciano, said she was pleased with the verdict, though she still has "that empty feeling inside." During the trial, she had referred to the state's attorneys, Narducci and Sarah W. Bowman, as "Jorge's lawyers," and said she was grateful for their hard work.
"It was very stressful," Feliciano said, smoking a cigarette outside the courthouse. "It doesn't bring my son back. I miss my son so much. But hopefully for my granddaughter, it's good for her to hear the guilty word."
Feliciano said she "feels bad" for Holmes' mother, who left the courthouse with other family members, all of them looking devastated.
"She didn't tell her son to kill my son," Feliciano said.
During the eight-day trial, the jurors had heard from Gabriela Gonzalez, who said she and Rosa were asleep when Holmes came into the room with Davion Smith and shot Rosa. Gonzalez, who was just 18 when the shooting occurred, had testified that she had dated Holmes, off and on, since she was 14 but had broken up with him while he was incarcerated. She said she had started dating Rosa a few months before the shooting.
Shanice Sebastian, who was with Holmes when he was arrested several hours later at the Days Inn in Old Saybrook, testified that he told her he had shot somebody.
The jury also heard that Holmes, who had been released from prison eight days before the homicide, had been involved in an altercation with Rosa's roommate, Todd "T.O." Silva, outside the WildStyle Riders Motorcycle Club less than an hour before the shooting. Witnesses said Holmes was bleeding from the hand and from the mouth after the fight.
Forensic experts had testified that Holmes' DNA was present in blood smears collected from the comforter on Rosa's bed and from walls and floors in the apartment building.
"We always thought it was a very strong case," Narducci said. "Very rarely do we get an eyewitness and forensic evidence."
Regarding the "not guilty" finding on the murder charge, Narducci said, "We believe we established the intent to cause the death of Mr. Rosa. However, the jury sifted through all the evidence and carefully considered everything before them."
The jury had asked for playback of testimony from Gonzalez and Sebastian during deliberations.
Koch, Holmes' attorney, declined to comment on the verdict, though he is expected to speak at the sentencing. During the defense's presentation of evidence, Koch had elicited testimony from a forensic expert who created a three-dimensional animation of the crime scene and testified that, based on the trajectory of the bullets, Gonzalez could not have been in the bed when Rosa was killed.
Testifying on his own behalf, Holmes placed himself at the crime scene but denied the shooting. He told the jury he went to the apartment that night because he heard Silva wanted to talk to him and that he briefly went into Rosa's bedroom but left as soon as he learned Silva was not there.
Holmes implied in his testimony that Rosa had been killed by another man, Zachary Perkins, who he said went into the apartment before he and Smith entered and came out after them. Gonzalez had testified that she was impregnated by Perkins about a month after the shooting.
Smith, arrested four months after the shooting, is incarcerated, and his court case is pending.
Narducci commended the State Police Eastern District Major Crime Squad and New London Police for their work on the case.
"I'm always amazed by how well the system works," he said.