Update: A jury of eight women and four men found 31-year-old Kevin Tyrone Bryant guilty in the murder-for-hire death of Saequan Vereen after two hours of deliberation Thursday.
Bryant dropped his head when the verdict was read and later turned to tell his mother he loved her.
Bryant was sentenced to life in prison.
Bryant's mother wailed as her head dropped back.
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"I know my baby didn't do it," she said with loud cries as she left the courtroom. "Oh, my baby!"
Minutes before, Saequan Vereen's mother, Crystal Vereen, told the court about the night her son was killed. She had passed the police cruisers pulsing with blue lights outside the club the morning of Feb. 15, 2015 when her son was killed on her way home, but didn't think much of it.
She got a call that her son had been shot five minutes later. Vereen rushed to the scene and saw her son lying on the sidewalk, partially covered by a sheet.
"He killed my son on behalf of the hearsay of another person," Vereen said, calling the murder an assassination.
Vereen said another man hired Bryant to kill her son because of a rumor that he was a snitch.
"My son was a hugger... would give you pretty much anything," Vereen said. "To see him laying out there on that slab. ... It traumatized me."
Bryant looked to each family member as they spoke and at Vereen as she told the court how her son's murder turned her "whole life upside down."
"How can you kill somebody you do not know? You have no regard for life," Vereen's sister told the court.
Vereen was 23 years old when he was gunned down outside the club.
Bryant was a brick mason, a father of a toddler and grew up in Kingstree, his attorney, Kia Wilson told the court.
He has been held in detention for most of his two-year-old daughter's life. she said.
Bryant turned to address the Vereen family.
"I never got paid to kill your son, never," he said. "I never got paid any money to kill your son."
"I apologize to y'all for your loss but I didn't do it," Bryant told the family.
"Your honor, can I hug my mother, please?" Bryant pleaded with the court.
The judge told them they would address that at another time.
"Your honor when this incident took place ... I had three more co-defendants," Bryant said. "Their charges started disappearing."
Bryant told the judge the DNA test on the murder weapon came back insufficient and his gunshot residue test came back negative.
"DNA don't lie. It wasn't my DNA on the gun," he said.
Bessie Bryant, Kevin Bryant's mother, told the family, "I want to apologize for y'alls loss in y'alls life... If I knew my son had anything to do with this boy's murder I would not be sitting in here every day."
All but one of the twelve jurors, who judged the case, returned to the courtroom to hear the sentence.
Bryant is accused of waiting for Vereen to exit Club Levelz in the wee hours of Feb. 15, 2015 to carry out a hit he was hired to finish. Police testified Bryant crouched between cars in the parking lot for several minutes, waiting for his prey, keeping put while others stepped and jumped over him as they left the club.
Then surveillance footage – played again for the jury during closing arguments – show Vereen exiting the club with a group of other guys at 2:33 a.m. Vereen reaches the void between the cars where police say Bryant was hiding and a muzzle flash ignites on the upper right corner of the screen in the video that shows Vereen falling and his killer continuing to shoot as he stood over him.
Attorneys on both sides of the courtroom asked jurors to look at the evidence that was presented in the trial in closing arguments.
Assistant Solicitor Joshua Holford told the jury to follow the evidence, specifically the bullet that was fired from a security guard’s gun at the shooter that morning.
Ronald Poston, an armed guard with Advanced Protection Services, said he fired at the shooter when he wouldn’t drop his gun and was sure he struck the suspect before he fled the scene.
That bullet from Poston’s gun matched the bullet that fell out of a gunshot wound on Bryant, who was stopped by police blocks away from the club and minutes after the shooting, Holford said.
Jurors leaned forward to review the surveillance footage again as Holford pointed out key moments like the 10 minute wait, Holford said, Bryant had outside the club that night.
In the defense’s closing arguments, Kia Wilson asked the jury to look at the evidence, specifically the evidence the state didn’t present during the trial.
The results of a DNA analysis on the shooter’s gun, the gunshot residue test officers performed on Bryant that night, the witnesses at the club that could have identified the shooter’s face – all of those key elements were missing, she said.
That was all information they didn’t want you to know, she told the jury.
"The two lead investigators (in this case), who have sat in this courtroom every day, they didn’t use them," she said. "You didn’t hear from them. … They didn’t want you to hear."
Wilson reminded the jurors of all of the state’s witnesses – except for the two security guards – who said they didn’t see the shooting occur, a question she asked of nearly every witness under cross examination.
The two security guards, who did see the shooting, described the killer as a black male who was wearing all black clothing.
Holford showed the jurors photos of the black clothing Bryant was wearing that night to remind them of the description that led officers to Bryant and the bullet that placed him at the scene. The guards identified Bryant as the shooter to police that night.
But Wilson reminded the jury the security guards testified they didn’t see the shooter’s face and she said their descriptions of a black male, his height, weight and clothing weren’t enough for a clear identification.
"They would say a general description is sufficient for a conviction and I’m saying it’s not," Wilson said. "If he was in that club, they could have put somebody on the stand to talk about it."
The state had planned to call one more witness, who exited the club with Vereen and had a clear view of the suspect. But when the witness’ criminal history came into question before he had a chance to testify in front of the jury, the state chose not to call him.
"When you’re presented with a narrow slice of something you have a very limited view," Wilson told the jury. "Those things that are not there are reasonable doubt."
Wilson told the jury it was not their job to fill in those holes for the state. She said it was their job look at the evidence, all of those holes and see the reasonable doubt those voids create.
"They want to go halfway and have you award them with a touchdown," she said, pulling a football analogy out of the playbook. "They have to get to the endzone to get to the touchdown. … We’re talking about someone’s life."
The jury started deliberating shortly after 11 a.m.
Bryant was indicted on charges of murder and unlawful possession of a pistol. He has been held in the J. Reuben Long Detention Center since his arrest in February 2015.
In March of that year, police charged 35-year-old Robbie Lee Bufkin of Loris with murder, the unlawful possession of a pistol and second-offense trafficking in cocaine, in the case.
According to arrest warrants, Bufkin “offered money for the murder of the victim, did hire Bryant to commit the murder and was instrumental in planning the execution-style murder.”
Bufkin’s murder and weapons charges were dropped in May as he pled guilty to the trafficking charge. He was sentenced to 16 years in prison with credit for time served.
Thirty-four-year-old Tiffany Miranda Taylor of Kingstree was charged with being an accessory after the fact in the murder case earlier this year. Her case is still pending, according to online court records.
Check back for more on this story as the trial continues.