A Dallas County jury sentenced Datrail Clayton to life in prison for the murder of Malik Tyler, an innocent child caught in the middle of a gun battle.
Jurors deliberated for 30 minutes Tuesday morning before returning their verdict.
Clayton, 24, will spend life in prison with the possibility of parole after 30 years.
Tyler and friends were innocent bystanders caught in the crossfire of two suspects, a man in a rolling car who randomly began shooting toward a crowd gathered outside of a convenience store in Pleasant Grove and Clayton who got out of a parked car and returned fire.
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Tyler and two friends were walking back to their apartment complex along Bruton Road after buying snacks at the corner store when shots rang out. The boys and others nearby began running.
Clayton, prosecutors said, missed the drive-by shooter but hit Tyler in the back.
The teen died later, despite the efforts of an apartment security guard who tried to stop the bleeding.
“This case certainly hits home. It’s a tragedy and it’s something that shouldn’t have ever happened,” said prosecutor Jason Fine. “We’re very thankful for what the jury did for the safety of the community.”
The Dallas County District Attorney’s Office says the motive for the shooting is not known. The suspects do not appear to know each other.
Fine calls this a senseless crime.
“That’s the problem here in the city of Dallas,” he said. “People that aren’t thinking and there’s a lot of guns out there and in this case, Malik paid with his life.”
Clayton’s defense attorney Paul Johnson expressed ‘disappointment’ in both the trial and sentencing phase results.
“I just think the punishment was extremely excessive for what was basically an accident,” said Johnson.
Jurors did not appear to buy Johnson’s argument of self-defense, finding Clayton guilty of murder in less than two hours last week.
The veteran Dallas defense attorney is also critical of the county’s jury selection process amid the pandemic.
“There were some complex legal issues that came into play and the manner in which we are picking juries here in Dallas County is not very conducive to really explaining them well to a jury,” said Johnson. “We’re picking the jury in a room the size of a basketball gymnasium. You can’t really see the jury, you can’t talk to them, you can’t hear them, they can’t hear you. It just causes a lot of confusion.”
For prosecutors, the case was clear. Malik Tyler received justice.
Asked what they learned about the victim in this case, prosecutor Tommy Adams said “The joy that he brought to the family and just what type of kid he was. And I think it touched all of our hearts. That is something that we are going to miss.”
Johnson says his client is full of remorse over the child’s death.
“He’s devastated. He’s been devastated by this. He’s a father himself,” said Johnson. “He feels horrible about what happened.”
A notice of appeal has been filed. If the conviction stands, Clayton will be almost 55 years old before he could be eligible for parole.
The other suspect in this shooting is in federal custody. His case is pending.