A Hennepin County jury took less than an hour to convict a man of murder for gunning down beloved Minneapolis North High quarterback Deshaun Hill Jr. during a chance encounter nearly one year ago, in a case that resonated far beyond the football field.
After a four-day trial, Cody Fohrenkam, 30, was found guilty of two counts of second-degree murder in the Feb. 9 fatal shooting of Hill, 15, after the two randomly crossed paths on a north Minneapolis sidewalk. Hill was walking to a bus stop and Fohrenkam was searching the neighborhood for the thief who had stolen his cellphone at knifepoint earlier that morning.
One juror said it took just a few minutes of deliberation to convict Fohrenkam.
"I don't think there was any doubt. … The evidence was all clear," said Sacha Muller, a 49-year-old Minneapolis resident who served on the jury. "Obviously I'm satisfied that it didn't take too long, but I was in it for the long haul."
The jury's speedy decision followed days of emotional testimony and video evidence of the deadly encounter. Fohrenkam, originally of Cloquet and admittedly homeless, waived his right to testify in his own defense Thursday.
But on Wednesday, jurors heard Fohrenkam's version of events from a jailhouse interview with Minneapolis police a week after Hill's killing when Fohrenkam eventually admitted to being in the area the day of the shooting.
"That don't make me no murderer. You act like I pulled a trigger on somebody," he told officers while already in custody at the Carlton County jail on unrelated charges.
Hill was shot about 12:30 p.m. at the intersection of Golden Valley Road and Penn Avenue, near a bus stop and Wally's, a convenience store. At 8:30 a.m., an assailant is shown on surveillance inside Wally's confronting Fohrenkam at the counter and punching his face four times before stealing his phone.
That's what prosecutors Dan Allard and Christopher Filipski said sparked Fohrenkam's hunt throughout the neighborhood for the thief. A cache of videos from Wally's, traffic cameras and outdoor home security footage from North Side residents pieced together his whereabouts and created a timeline of Fohrenkam's actions in the hours leading up to the shooting.
He enlisted friends to return to Wally's and they walked down alleyways and conversed at street corners while encountering residents who later identified Fohrenkam as the suspect shown on surveillance and ranting to them about his stolen phone before he eventually encountered Hill.
Retired Minneapolis police Sgt. Matthew Wente and Sgt. Luis Porras told Fohrenkam in the jailhouse interview that Hill was executed with his back to the shooter.
"Someone took your [stuff] and you took it out on this kid," they told him. "... You killed a 15-year-old kid for no reason, for no reason at all. ... He died right there on the cold sidewalk."
Fohrenkam at first told them he had been in Wisconsin with his girlfriend, then said that he was in south Minneapolis with a cousin, who testified that was untrue.
When police asked about his phone, Fohrenkam at first said it was broken. Then he snapped about the robbery, yelling about being jumped at Wally's. "I don't gangbang. I ain't with the guns," he said, but told the police that they already "got your story."
"I wish you hadn't killed that kid," Wente said as he exited the interrogation room.
Fohrenkam is scheduled for sentencing Feb. 28. Prosecutors intend to seek an enhanced sentence.
A key piece of evidence for prosecutors was that the suspect wore red pants, which the one eyewitness to the shooting, Ashley McNamara, reported to police.
Marshelle Keys said she and her wife were driving in the alleyway that morning when a man in red pants they identified as Fohrenkam wouldn't get out of the way. They said he was searching for his phone and later saw him on their home security camera.
Another witness, Russell James Sr., had the closest and longest interaction with Fohrenkam and positively identified him, Allard said, adding that James said Fohrenkam was wearing red pants and upset about someone stealing his phone.
Wally's surveillance video showed a man police believed was Fohrenkam at first wearing gray sweatpants during the robbery. But tucked inside Fohrenkam's unzipped backpack is red cloth clearly visible on surveillance.
Allard said Fohrenkam slipped and fell on slushy sidewalks — video shows him wearing the wet gray sweatpants — so he went to a nearby relative's house to change into the red pants.
Fohrenkam's public defenders, Brooke Adams and Lisa Skrzeczkoski, argued that clothing was all police had to describe the suspect. They said Fohrenkam was not the shooter in red pants and there is no physical proof he changed out of the gray pants.
Witnesses provided conflicting race descriptions to investigators, Skrzeczkoski said, and at no point did witnesses or police describe the suspect's height or weight. She said this unfairly affected the photo lineup witnesses were shown by police.
"Eyewitnesses' identification often lead to wrong convictions," she said.
Skrzeczkoski said the state cannot assume Fohrenkam was the person wearing red pants, or that he was an aggressive person who would shoot Hill in "a tragic death, and nobody disputes that."
As surveillance videos of Hill's killing played in the courtroom, one relative had to leave while others sobbed. When the guilty verdicts were read later that day, the family passed around a box of tissues while Hill's mother, Tuesday Sheppard, silently nodded as each individual juror confirmed the verdict.
Sheppard said the videos made her sick to her stomach, but she's grateful to North Side residents for sharing them with investigators. "I love the community support and thank you for doing the right thing," she said.
Video showed Hill walking down the sidewalk, wearing a distinctive cast on his left foot from a football injury, when Fohrenkam passed him close enough to brush shoulders. It's unknown if anything was said between them.
Fohrenkam threw his hand in the air and stopped while Hill kept walking, unaware that the man behind him was digging into his backpack and pulling out a gun before three shots were fired.
Allard said while Fohrenkam's "day is spiraling downhill," it's Hill who had the "horrible misfortune of running across the defendant." He said Hill was minding his own business, walking home from school, looking down at his phone when he encountered Fohrenkam, a man angry that someone had stolen his.
Sheppard said afterward that Fohrenkam was "looking to kill a kid."
"My son would've gave him his phone. That's how good of a kid he was," she said. "He would've said, 'Here you lost your phone? You can have mine.'"