Former Fresno State player Pettis convicted of murder
FRESNO, Calif. -- Former Fresno State basketball player Terry Pettis was convicted Friday of murdering a teenage woman in a botched drug robbery.
Pettis, 21, faced a mandatory sentence of life in prison for first-degree murder and armed robbery in the death of Rene Shannon Abbott, a Fresno City College student who was behind the wheel of a car while her boyfriend sold marijuana in the seat next to her.
Pettis shoved a handgun through the open driver's window and demanded the drugs, witnesses said. The gun fired when Abbott, 18, tried to drive away.
Pettis showed no emotion as the verdict was read in Fresno County Superior Court and sentencing was set for July 11. Some of his relatives sobbed.
Defense lawyer Michael Castro claimed the case was one of mistaken identity and that Pettis didn't pull the trigger.
But witnesses and fingerprints put the hoops player at the scene. The prosecutor said Pettis should be held accountable for a crime so grisly that the judge decided jurors couldn't see an autopsy photo showing the bullet's impact on Abbott's head.
"This has been rough for everyone," prosecutor John Skiles said outside court. "Tragic for anyone remotely touched."
The April 2004 killing capped a series of run-ins Pettis had with the law that ended his basketball career at California State University, Fresno.
Pettis, who led Minneapolis Henry to three straight state championships, was one of the top Western Athletic Conference players his freshman year at Fresno.
But his exploits off the court soon started drawing more attention.
In 2003, Pettis was sentenced to three years probation for vandalism and battery, and he spent a month in a substance abuse program.
He emerged to lead the Bulldogs on a seven-game winning spree. But in February 2004 he was suspended from the team and put behind bars for violating probation by not completing a batterer's treatment program.
Six days after Pettis got out of jail, Abbott drove her boyfriend, Kent Wolf, to the parking lot of an apartment complex near Fresno State.
While Wolf sold an ounce of marijuana, a gunman appeared at the driver's side window demanding the drugs, witnesses testified.
"Go, go, go," Wolf shouted. The car jumped into reverse and the gun fired, Michael Tunnell, the drug buyer, testified.
Tunnell and Wolf pointed to Pettis as the gunman. A police technician identified his finger and palm prints on Abbott's car window. And jurors heard a tape of his then-girlfriend, Melissa Cenci, tell police how a hysterical Pettis came to her house that night, saying he thought he "shot something" during a drug robbery.
Castro poked at inconsistencies in testimony, and said Pettis could have left a palm print on the window during a drug deal a few days earlier.
Pettis' family appeared distraught by the verdict and left without comment.
Abbot's parents broke down as they reflected on their daughter's life. They remembered her as a girl who played golf, enjoyed children and loved life.
"We had a wonderful daughter," said her father, Ron Abbott. "We raised her the best we could. But kids make decisions, and sometimes they're not good."
Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press
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