A jury Friday convicted a Colorado Springs man of second-degree murder in the January shooting of a recent parolee at a drug den.
Arquinn Deandre Stafford, 37, sidestepped convictions for first-degree murder and aggravated robbery in the killing of Benjamin Sharkey. But the defendant’s lengthy criminal record means he hasn’t yet dodged a life term in prison.
If prosecutors establish that Stafford has seven felony convictions, as they allege, then he will face up to 96 years in prison under Colorado’s habitual offender laws.
Fourth Judicial District Judge Thomas Kelly Kane is scheduled to sentence Stafford on Feb. 8.
“Benjamin Sharkey, despite his past, did not deserve to be murdered in cold blood. We got justice for him today,” said lead prosecutor Sam Burney.
Stafford took the stand and denied involvement in the shooting, saying he heard a shot fired but took off running without seeing who was responsible — what prosecutors called the fourth version of his explanation.
One of Stafford’s court-appointed attorneys, public defender Amelia Blyth, said he would appeal.
Sharkey, 30, was shot in the head Jan. 7 by a man who accompanied him to a drug dealer’s apartment in the 100 block of Motor Way in the Ivywild neighborhood south of downtown. During Stafford’s trial, the dealer, Jeffrey Ross, identified that man as Stafford and described how Sharkey appeared surprised to see him brandishing a gun as they walked through the door. Sharkey uttered two words, “Really, n---?” before Stafford fired a single shot into his upper body, Ross said.
Ross alleged that Stafford demanded cash from his wallet after the shooting — roughly $400 — and then fled.
But the six-man, six-woman jury rejected claims of a robbery while accepting that Stafford was responsible for the shooting.
It’s unclear what the panel concluded as far as Stafford’s intent in drawing a handgun. Under the law, when someone dies during the commission of a felony, such as attempted robbery, the person committing the crime can be convicted of first-degree murder.
Members of the jury couldn’t be reached for comment.
“It’s hard to get into their heads, honestly,” said Sharkey’s brother, Jeremy Bolding of Longmont.
Even so, family members say they consider the verdict justice for Sharkey, who had been out of prison only 12 days when he was killed, after 11 years in and out of the prison system due to his involvement in gangs and drugs.
With a childlike demeanor arising from fetal alcohol syndrome, Sharkey told family members he wanted a chance to turn things around, which they say Stafford stole from him.
“Ultimately, (the verdict) turned out decent for us,” Bolding said. “It’s not what we were hoping for, but just having some closure is positive.”
The normal sentencing range for second-degree murder is up to 24 years, but Stafford faces a quadrupled penalty if prosecutors can conclusively link him to his past convictions, a process that normally turns on fingerprint identification.
The Gazette’s Liz Forster contributed to this report.