An Iowa teenager was found guilty on Thursday of second-degree murder and manslaughter in the deaths of two students that 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.
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 conviction of second-degree murder in the death of Carr and voluntary manslaughter in the death of Dameron means 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 set 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.
Under questioning by prosecutors, Walls admitted shooting Carr nine times and shooting Dameron 13 times, as well as hitting Keeps with two bullets.
Police arrested Walls less than an hour after the shooting. Another person, Bravon Tukes, is scheduled to stand trial on murder charges on Oct. 2. He’s accused of picking up Walls after the shooting and driving away from the area.
Prosecutors argued Walls was affiliated with a gang that frequently had disputes with a rival gang, whose members included Dameron and Carr. Families of all the teens disputed that they were gang members.
Starts Right Here reopened within several weeks of the shooting and Keeps returned despite lingering injuries. The program, which is affiliated with Des Moines public schools, continues to operate with about 30 students this fall.
The families of Carr and Dameron have filed a lawsuit against the program and Keeps, claiming they failed to keep the program safe.