WEST PALM BEACH Jurors found former Florida State University football player Travis Rudolph not guilty of murder on Wednesday, closing a two-week trial in which Rudolph insisted he had killed one man and nearly killed three others to save his own life. The jury reached its decision after less than four hours of deliberation.
Rudolph, who briefly played in the NFL, faced one count of first-degree murder and three counts of attempted murder two years ago for the fatal shooting outside his Lake Park home. The 12-member jury had the option to convict him of lesser offenses, including second-degree murder and manslaughter, but rejected those as well.
Rudolph left the courthouse smiling on Wednesday and stopped to pose for a photo with a supporter. A passing driver honked and yelled his name from an open car window.
Closing arguments:Defense attorney hurls insults during closing argument
More testimonial:Brother says men who confronted footballer Travis Rudolph ‘came to kill’
The charges against Rudolph stemmed from a late-night incident on April 7, 2021, in which four young men showed up on his doorstep to confront him about a dispute he had hours earlier with his girlfriend. The confrontation turned violent, Rudolph said, and he armed himself with a semi-automatic rifle.
Prosecutors said the men had stopped fighting Rudolph and were attempting to flee in a black Cadillac 90 yards away from Rudolph’s house when the footballer fired 39 shots at their car, killing Sebastien Jean-Jacques in the passenger seat and Tyler Robinson in injured the back of his car. the car. Rudolph testified that both men pointed guns at him, though investigators said they never found evidence to support his claim.
Rudolph asked Circuit Judge Jeffrey Gillen last year to dismiss the case based on Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, which allows the use of deadly force to protect against death or grievous bodily harm. Gillen denied his request, leaving the jurors to decide whether Rudolph ended Jean-Jacques’ life to save his own.
It took them longer to acquit him than the five minutes suggested by Rudolph’s attorney, Marc Shiner, though neither man complained as they left the courtroom on Wednesday.
‘It means everything. I finally have my freedom back,” Rudolph said outside the courthouse. “I can get my life back on track.”
Hours earlier, he and his family had gathered in a circle outside the courtroom to pray. Jurors sent a note to the judge warning him that they had reached a verdict shortly after lunch ended. The gallery became so crowded in the next few minutes with people supporting Rudolph and half hoping that he would answer for Jean-Jacques’ death that deputies had to bar latecomers.
Gillen sternly warned onlookers before the jury entered: “Violence is not allowed in this courthouse,” he said.
There wasn’t. Both Rudolph’s supporters and his critics wept at each of the four “not guilty” verdicts, some abruptly leaving the courtroom and shouting their displeasure in the hallway outside. Rudolph’s relatives clapped each other on the shoulder and wiped their eyes, returning his grin from the gallery.
Marc Freeman, spokesman for the Palm Beach County State Attorney’s Office, said his thoughts are with the victims and their families in the aftermath of the trial.
“While we may disagree with the jury’s verdict, it is their job to determine whether a defendant is guilty or not guilty on the basis of the facts,” he said. “We respect the jury’s decision.”
Assistant State Attorneys Adrienne Ellis and Richard Clausi Jr. did not stop to talk to reporters as they left the courtroom. They, along with Assistant State Attorney Francine Edwards, had urged the jury to convict Rudolph of murder and attempted murder, playing back footage from a neighborhood security camera that showed the young men starting to walk away before Rudolph started shooting .
Prosecutors said Rudolph lied about seeing a gun in the hands of Jean-Jacques and Robinson. They called a neighbor and Rudolph’s own mother who agreed that the only firearm they saw belonged to Rudolph. Robinson admitted to investigators that he did bring a gun, but said he never took it out of his pocket during the confrontation and dumped it in a neighbor’s yard after being shot.
Emily Vander-Laan, lead investigator with the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office, testified that there was no evidence that Jean-Jacques had a gun. She admitted she wasn’t looking for discarded guns along the trail the young men rode after they fled Rudolph’s house and left Robinson bleeding.
Shiner flailed with Vander-Laan about her alleged inattention relentlessly, suggesting that a bulge in Jean-Jacques’ pocket could have been a weapon, and that his “death grip” posture looked like he might have died with a gun in his hand . hand.
Shiner accused Vander-Laan of orchestrating a shoddy investigation for the sole purpose of convicting Rudolph, mocking her even after she left the witness stand for not looking for the gun he and his brother swore Jean-Jacques had aimed at them. Vander-Laan’s response to the accusation was the same each time: she had no reason to believe there was an additional weapon.
Keishaun Jones and Chris Lowe, two of the four young men who confronted Rudolph, told her that no one in their group was armed. A PBSO K-9 later found the gun that Robinson had dumped, which Vander-Laan said she believed Jones and Lowe were unaware of.
Robinson said he ditched the gun after tripping out of Jones’ car, certain his three friends had been killed in the gunfire. Jones accelerated and only realized when the bullet-ravaged car died several minutes later that they had left Robinson behind. Shiner suggested that Jones and Lowe took the gun from Jean-Jacques’ hand and hid it before calling 911.
Prosecutors said the idea of the second weapon only came up after Vander-Laan’s initial investigation, during trial preparation, when Shiner tried to get the murder charge dismissed. Neither Rudolph’s brother nor mother mentioned it to the detectives, though they testified at trial that the first words to come out of Rudolph’s mouth as he ran home were that two men had pointed guns at him and his brother.
Shiner insisted on Wednesday that Rudolph’s story has never changed. He said during closing arguments on Tuesday that the only thing his client was guilty of was “not being smart with women”. Rudolph admitted during his deposition that he cheated on his then-girlfriend Dominique Jones and antagonized her when she found out on April 6, 2021.
Jones became enraged, Rudolph’s Ring doorbell recorded her hitting him, the pair hurling insults at each other. Jones told her brother, Keishaun, that Rudolph knocked her to the ground during their fight, asking him and Robinson to “please shoot his ass”.
The Jones siblings and their friends testified that the text message was not serious and that the men arrived at Rudolph’s house looking for answers and an apology, not bloodshed. Shiner claimed the opposite was true and considered Rudolph a “hero” for saving his and his brother’s lives.
“He was confident, more than anyone else, that the truth would come out,” the defense attorney said Wednesday. “His faith in God helped him get through this.”
Hannah Phillips is a journalist covering public safety and criminal justice at The Palm Beach Post. You can reach her at[email protected]
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