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Gang member convicted in teen's murder

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

A Clayton County jury has convicted a Riverdale man of murder, in the drive-by shooting death of a 16-year old, nearly two years to the day, after the youngster's killing.

Jerome David Burgess, who also goes by the name "Oops," was found guilty, Thursday, of felony murder, possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime, and six counts of aggravated assault, in the death of Dana Varner, according to Clayton County Assistant District Attorney Luana Popescu.

Monday, of next week, will mark the two-year anniversary of the murder, which occurred on Oct. 25, 2008.

Burgess did not actually pull the trigger, according to Popescu. He was the driver of the get-away-vehicle, used during the drive-by shooting, in which Varner was killed.

The person who shot Varner, Andre Rashad Weems, also known as "Hot Deezy," pleaded "guilty, but mentally retarded," to felony murder, and two counts of aggravated assault, in September, according to the assistant district attorney.

Popescu also said Burgess and Weems were members of a gang, called the Murk Mob, and were looking to harm members of a rival gang, on the night Varner was killed. Varner was not in a gang, she said.

"Gangs in Clayton County account for a good number of the crimes in the county," Popescu said. "As a result, the district attorney has taken a very hard stance against gangs, under the law of party to a crime. Thankfully, the citizens said [with the verdict] they are not going to tolerate drive-bys anymore.

"We hope that other gang members will realize that even if they are the driver, they cannot hide behind that anymore," Popescu added.

Burgess' trial lasted three days, with the jury beginning their deliberations on Wednesday, according to his attorney, Robert L. Mack.

He said the verdict came back at 10 a.m., on Thursday.

Burgess is scheduled to be sentenced on Tuesday, at 9 a.m. Popescu said she, and Deputy Chief Assistant District Attorney Bill Dixon, plan to ask Clayton County Superior Court Judge Albert Collier to sentence Burgess, and Weems, together. She said that will depend, however, on whether Weems' attorney, Larry Melnick, is available to appear in court.

Popescu said the events that led to Varner's murder began earlier in the evening, on Oct. 25, 2008, at a football game, between Mundy's Mill High School, and Riverdale High School, at Tara Stadium. Members of the Murk Mob got into a fight with members of the 220 gang, and the fight was broken up by police, she said.

Murk Mob members went looking for 220 members later, for retaliation, according to Popescu.

"It was their intention to go into 220 territory, and shoot some of its members," Popescu said. "They drove into the rival gang's territory, and started looking for this one guy. They went to his house, but they did not find him. He wasn't home, so they drove onto [Caribou Lane, in Riverdale], and passed a house that had two male teenagers, and one female teenager standing in the front yard. These kids had no involvement in this," she said.

"They [Murk Mob members] drove down the street, and stopped. Mr. Weems took the gun from another car, and got in the vehicle with Mr. Burgess ... They turned around and came back, and sprayed about eight, or nine bullets at the kids. Mr. Varner was hit one time, but one time was all it took."

Burgess' attorney, Robert Mack, said he "felt a little shocked by the verdict," and plans to ask for a new trial. He said he will seek the new trial, or an appeal, if a new trial is not granted, by arguing that the attack was not pre-meditated. He said he will use testimony that Weems gave during the trial, to support his argument.

"The co-defendant basically said there was no plan," Mack said.