Antonio Prado Jr. convicted of murder Friday
After deliberating all afternoon Thursday and past lunch on Friday, jurors convicted Antonio Prado Jr. of murder in the shooting death of five-year-old Kason Powell.Then, while they were waiting to start hearing evidence in the punishment phase of the trial, they were told that Prado had accepted a plea deal.
In that deal, Prado accepted a life sentence for the murder of Kason Powell and 20 years on a pending aggravated assault case stemming from the same incident. The two sentences were to run concurrently and the jury was dismissed.
Grayson County District Attorney Brett Smith said under the terms of the plea agreement, Prado will not be able to appeal the verdict or the sentences and will have to do 30 years before he is eligible for parole.
The sentence ended a case that was unusual from the beginning to end.
It started on Nov. 19, 2017 when Prado and two other people drove to the house where Kason Powell lived with his family in Denison. Testimony in the case this week revealed that the shooting that happened that night sprang from a drug deal that went horribly wrong when Kason Powell's older brother arranged to purchase marijuana but took the drug without paying instead. The alleged drug dealer, Sabrino Nino, had received the drugs without paying for them from Prado.
Prosecutors said when Prado learned of the theft, he, Nino and Ryan Clay went looking for the teen who took the drugs.
Testimony revealed that the three found the home where the teen lived, but he was not there. Instead, inside the home were his parents and three younger siblings. Kason Powell was killed and his 11-year-old brother was seriously injured in the shooting.
Jurors heard evidence in the case on Tuesday, Wednesday and then part of Thursday. They were released to consider the case on Thursday afternoon. By Friday mid morning, they had sent out several notes but had not reached a unanimous verdict.
At that point, things happened a bit differently than they generally do in such trials.
Statements made in court Friday showed that while they were waiting on the verdict, the prosecution and defense attorney discussed a deal to bring the case to a conclusion without the jury's verdict.
Prado's attorney Nelson Knight told Judge Jim Fallon that the state had made an offer and his client had accepted it before the jury came back with its verdict. He urged Fallon to make the prosecution stand by that deal. That deal had also offered Prado a life sentence for pleading guilty to murder.
First Assistant Grayson County District Attorney Kerye Ashmore remembered the chain of events differently when it was his turn to talk to the judge. He said that though he had talked to Knight about the deal, Ashmore had said it was conditional on Prado accepting it and on the Powell family accepting it. He said while he was at lunch before those two things could happen, he heard that there was a verdict. He said he talked to the family, and they said they wanted to go ahead and hear the jury's verdict.
Knight said Ashmore should not have made the offer if he couldn't stand behind it.
"This is prosecutorial misconduct. This is appalling," Knight said urging Fallon to allow the deal to go through.
Fallon said it was up to him to accept or reject the deal either way and he felt that since they had pressed the jury to continue to try to work toward a verdict after receiving notes about their difficulty in doing so, they should go ahead and accept the verdict.
When the jury returned, they found Prado guilty of the second charge, that of murder, which meant he could get anything from five to 99 years in prison.
Then the judge dismissed the jury back to the jury room so that the attorneys could get ready for the second part of the trial, the penalty phase. That is when, Smith said, they reached the plea agreement that saw Prado take a life sentence for the murder charge and 20 years on the outstanding aggravated assault charge with the sentences to run concurrently. Prado's motive for doing that, Smith said, was to keep from going through a second trial where the punishment for a conviction on the aggravated assault charge could have seen the sentences stacked meaning he would have to serve one before starting another.
Prado's is the first major trial since the pandemic began and took place in the Grayson County Courthouse instead of the Justice Center to allow for social distancing. The trial was held on the second floor of the courthouse in the restored West courtroom overlooking the square. The courtroom has seating for more than 100 in usual circumstances. Under social distancing, it could accommodate up to 56 people.
Nino and Clay have each been charged with capital murder for their alleged role in death and the assault on the family's home. Their cases do not have a trial date set at this time.