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
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
In 2003, Pettis was sentenced to three years probation for
vandalism and battery, and he spent a month in a substance abuse
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
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
Castro poked at inconsistencies in testimony, and said Pettis
could have left a palm print on the window during a drug deal a few
Pettis' family appeared distraught by the verdict and left
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."