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Jury convicts pair in man's shooting death

By Kathy Jefcoats

kjefcoats@news-daily.com

JONESBORO — After deliberating several hours Friday, a Clayton County jury convicted two men in the June 14, 2012, shooting death of a Riverdale father of three.

Denirio "D-Red" Cunningham and Joseph Irvine Harris were convicted on all counts related to the shooting death of David "Ruck" Rucker, 25. Jurors believed the two burst into the home Rucker shared with his girlfriend, Ashley Gay, and their three young children. Evidence showed Cunningham fired the shot that killed Rucker but under Georgia law, Harris is equally culpable.

Testimony revealed that Harris and Rucker were high school friends.

The two are expected to be sentenced next month.

Defense attorneys agreed Friday that what happened to Rucker and his family was a horrible, senseless tragedy.

However, they argued to a Clayton County jury that Cunningham and Harris were innocent.

Gay testified during this week's trial that the two men who burst into their home wore masks and gloves and never said a word. She told jurors how Rucker ushered her and their children into a bedroom and closed the door against the intruders. His last words, she said, were to protect his family.

"He said, 'Naw, brah, naw, brah, my kids are in here,'" said Gay. "Then I heard a loud pop like a gunshot."

A second witness testified to driving the two men to the Rucker apartment. Keith Alexander said he sat in his truck for 10-15 minutes while Cunningham and Harris went to collect clothes. He said the two men came "storming" toward his truck, ordering him to "pull off, pull off."

When Alexander demanded to know what had happened, Harris reportedly told them it "got crazy" inside and that Cunningham had shot Rucker. After debating what he knew for four days, Alexander reported the incident to police, he testified.

Coming forward made him the target of an alleged murder plot by Cunningham from behind bars at the Clayton County Jail, said prosecutors. Cunningham's girlfriend, Jasmine Williams, testified to getting that call.

She was charged in the alleged conspiracy and locked up in October. Williams was freed after she testified this week against Cunningham.

A fourth witness told jurors that Cunningham admitted the shooting to him. Jeremy Williams was in the Clayton County Jail at the same time as Cunningham. He said Cunningham also confessed to a similar home invasion that happened months before Rucker was shot. The alleged crime bothered him so much that he reported it to police.

Williams said the alleged victim was known to him only as "Yellow Boy."

"He broke in on Yellow Boy and Yellow Boy's girlfriend had a gun," Williams testified. "He drew down on her and told her, 'You know what time it is.' She was only wearing a shirt and bent over, expecting that he wanted to (rape) her, but he only wanted oral sex."

Williams said Cunningham told him he took guns, money and two identification cards from the home when he left. The alleged assault upset Williams, he said.

"I heard that he was planning to rob my sister's apartment," said Williams. "I was just thinking how that could've been her. The robbery didn't bother me, the sexual part did. That's when I got mad and wrote a postcard in December about the things he'd told me."

Police said they found the man's ID cards in Cunningham's bedroom and the couple identified both defendants as the men who broke into their apartment. Harris and Cunningham are charged in that alleged incident.

But Jonathan Melnick, representing Harris, and Careton Matthews, representing Cunningham, said the witnesses are lying.

"It's a terrible thing, a tragedy, what happened June 14, 2012,” said Melnick during his closing Friday morning. "Words cannot express the sorrow that we feel toward Ashley Gay and those children. But this man did not commit this act. The state failed to prove that he did."

Melnick said Alexander's story "doesn't add up" and the first alleged home invasion is "sketchy."

"It simple doesn't make sense and doesn't prove anything about June 14, 2012," he said.

Matthews called Rucker's death "senseless and something that should not have happened." He also acknowledged that people have the right to feel safe in their own homes.