Teen in French artist’s slaying incites court brawl after guilty verdict
A brawl broke out in a Detroit courtroom Wednesday after a guilty verdict was announced against a 15-year-old defendant in the robbery and murder of French artist Bilal Berreni.
The juvenile, with his hands cuffed behind his back, ran toward his pregnant sister sitting in a Wayne County Juvenile courtroom to say goodbye when a brawl ensued between his family members and deputies.
“I just want to say goodbye,” the young defendant said during the incident.
The juvenile, the youngest of four defendants convicted in the July 2013 murder of Berreni, was convicted by Wayne County Judge Christopher Dingell just minutes before he made a startling jump to the back of the small courtroom.
The incident brought other deputies in the four-story courthouse flying into Dingell’s courtroom. The fight spilled out from Dingell’s courtroom into the third floor hallway as deputies escorted the emotionally charged family members out of the courthouse.
“I pushed the button,” said Dingell, referring to a security alert, after the melee.
The fight happened just after Dingell told the youngster he believed the teen knew his three other co-defendants, Drequone Rich and Dionte Travis, both 21, and Jasin Curtis, 19, were looking for someone to rob and murder and therefore he is guilty of the charges against him.
Authorities say the four saw Berreni around 4 a.m. on the basketball court of the abandoned Brewster Douglass housing projects when they targeted him for the attack. They robbed the Paris native of $300 and then shot him.
Police say Berreni was not involved in drugs and would go to the site to salvage for lumber for his art projects.
“I believe (the teen) knew about it before the fact and went along with them. He went along with the group,” Dingell said in his ruling. “He clearly understood what the group was going to do. The juvenile didn’t intend to kill but he was part of a group that did intend to kill. Guilty as charged.”
Dingell said he also based his verdict on a lengthy videotaped police interrogation in which the teen confessed to knowing that his co-defendants planned to rob and murder someone for money after losing cash in a dice game.
The 15-year-old got $50 from the robbery, spending it on marijuana and junk food, authorities said. The group also took Berreni’s debit and Bridge card and allegedly tried to use them with no success.
The teen, according to Rich’s videotaped confession, tussled with another of the defendants over the money they took, causing the gun to go off.
A videotaped confession by the juvenile was played in court Wednesday, which his defense attorney has said was given afters hours of interrogation by the police. In it, the teen described Berreni struggling with his English, telling his robbers and attackers “I don’t have money.”
The teen said in the videotape Travis was looking to rob and murder someone allegedly saying “we got to eat.” The teen said he went along with the robbery because “I wanted money in my pocket.” He admitted to trying to use Berreni’s debit and Bridge cards.
Earlier, the teen testified in his own defense, saying he was cajoled into confessing he was there during the robbery and that “I went with what my co-defendants said” about the murder of Berreni.
The teen denied being at the robbery and murder scene, although Rich placed him there during his videotaped police confession.
“I was never there,” the teen said Wednesday. “I was at my auntie’s house. I was locked up. I was on a tether.”
The young defendant’s attorney, Jeffrey Schwartz, said during his closing arguments that “the best thing (the prosecutor) proved beyond a reasonable doubt is an armed robbery.”
Dingell, who said Berreni died a “horrific”death, told the teen he would decide by Jan. 16 what the sentence would be, but it will most likely be a blended sentence that would keep him out of adult prison but would leave the prospect “hanging over his head” because if he got into any more trouble he would get strict prison time.
“You will have to walk the straight and narrow,” Dingell advised the teen as family cried over the verdict.
Travis will find out his fate Thursday when he is sentenced for Berreni’s robbery and murder before Wayne County Circuit Judge Bruce Morrow.