Chain of evidence convicts shooter in murder plot

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Updated: 8/25/2012 12:24 am Published: 8/24/2012 9:31 pm

The jury found no breaks in the chain for the man who pulled the trigger in the 2008 murder-for-hire.

“The chain of evidence wrapped around him and he couldn’t get loose,” said Tulsa County First Assistant District Attorney Doug Drummond.

On Friday, the jury returned a verdict of guilty for Terrico Bethel, 26, for the murder and conspiracy of businessman Neal Sweeney.

There is still more ahead in this case.

Harris said the prosecution’s approach will be different in the two upcoming trials.

However, four years after the murder of Neal Sweeney, the jury had no trouble finding Terrico Bethel guilty.

Drummond described this murder conspiracy like a train, “When a party gets aboard, everyone is accountable.”

Bethel’s attorney described him as a 22-year-old kid when he walked into Neal Sweeney’s east Tulsa business and shot him once in the head and took off in a white van.

"We were to make sure that Mr. Bethel got a fair trial and I think that is what we did,” said pubic defender Sharon Holmes.

Prosecutors painted a very different picture of a man who could be paid to commit murder.

"He's a 22 year-old killer,” said Tulsa County District Attorney Tim Harris

The jury took less than two hours to come to a verdict.

"He didn't know this man. He had to look at a picture of this man to find out who he was killing it was all over money. That's what makes this so dangerous. It's cold hearted, it's unresponsive, it's unemotional, it's unrepentant. He goes into the middle of a work day at 9:30 in the morning and kills a man for $5,000. It's unbelievable in Tulsa, Oklahoma,” said Harris.

Prosecutors said the five suspects worked together. Although not everyone knew each other, they were all paid by former convenience store owner Mohammed Aziz to kill Neal Sweeney for $11,100.

Aziz testified he wanted Sweeney dead because he shut off his gas pumps for unpaid fuel.

Sweeney who was a star receiver for the University of Tulsa football team in the 1960’s, was well known, well-liked father, husband and a successful member of the community.

"Neal Sweeney was a businessman going about his business and taking his family and Mr. Aziz didn't like what happened financially and hired a group of thugs to go forward and to conspire to kill him. Terrico bethel is the triggerman. He is the shooter he is the one who pulled the trigger and killed Neal Sweeney," said Harris.

The defense argued the prosecution had made a deal with the devil getting Mohammed Aziz to testify against the others in exchange for a 25-35 year prison sentence.

Aziz admitted he plotted the murder and paid to have Sweeney killed.

Another witness, a former gang-member, recorded Bethel’s confession to the crime in jail.

District Attorney Tim Harris said he didn’t have a choice, “When you cast a play in hell, your actors won’t be angels.

"It's not about snitching it's about telling the truth. And citizens have to stand up to tell the truth or evil gets embolden in the community," said Harris.

The case is not over. The trials of the two accused co-conspirators, Alonzo Johnson and Fred Shields are scheduled for September 17th.

In closing arguments, prosecutors continued to bring up Bethel’s consequences and choices.

They told the jury without Bethel’s role Neal Sweeney would still be alive.
However, justice cannot undo the terrible damage done.

"You have a wife who will never see their husband again, daughters that their daddy was taken from them in an act of violence almost four years ago. Are they glad justice was done? Yes. Can they ever be happy? I don't think so,” said Harris.  
Shields and Johnson are scheduled to be tried separately and Aziz is expected to testify.

Allen Shields pleaded guilty and testified against the suspects in the preliminary hearing. He committed suicide in April, 2011.

The jury recommend Terrico Bethel spend life in prison without parole. The judge will formally sentence Bethel on Tuesday.

For a complete timeline on this complex case read this story

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