Nearly two years after a man was shot and killed at a car wash in Gainesville, a six-person jury on Monday night convicted Eugene Javon Patrick of second-degree murder.
Circuit Judge James Colaw immediately sentenced him to life in prison.
The trial, which lasted seven hours from opening statement to verdict, featured a video of the 2021 Saturday afternoon altercation in which Patrick and the victim, Bobby “Chedda Bob” Bernard Hopkins, appeared to get into an argument. In his testimony, Patrick said Hopkins earlier gave him a pound of marijuana worth $2,300 to sell, and he said he wanted nothing to do with it. Hopkins, he said, left him with it anyway.
Defense attorney Stephen N. Bernstein argued Patrick was acting in self-defense after Hopkins lunged at him and, according to police testimony, yelled, “Where is my money?” Patrick testified that Hopkins was choking him and he tried to knock his arms away, then fired his gun. Police said the gun was unlicensed and concealed in his pocket and led to an additional charge against him after arrest.
“I was in fear for my life. I couldn’t breathe,” he said Monday.
A jury did not believe him.
Patrick initially accepted a plea deal of misdemeanor manslaughter that would have left him in prison for 15 years, but changed his plea two weeks later and demanded a trial.
State prosecutor Ryan Nagel told the jury, which deliberated for just under an hour, that Patrick failed to properly retreat from the altercation as is required to claim self-defense under Florida statute. During cross-examination, prosecuting attorney Omar Hechavarria repeatedly asked Patrick why he chose to respond with deadly force rather than continue to fight back physically.
The state asked for the maximum penalty for second-degree murder: life in prison.
“In the state’s mind, this should be life for a life “ Nagel said. He acknowledged Patrick’s young age, 24, but said that victim was also young and wrongfully murdered.
Patrick, who has spent over 700 days in the Alachua County Jail awaiting trial, spent the majority of the day looking to the jury, selected just that morning, and Judge James M. Colaw. He was calm for the length of the trial, glancing back to his family after receiving his guilty verdict, then led away by police.
Many members of his family stepped outside of the courtroom while Hopkins’ older sister, Stephanie Jenkins, spoke before the sentencing on behalf of her family.
“I can’t say I forgive you at this moment, because I don’t,” she said. “For 723 days, I have been on an emotional rollercoaster. Not a day goes by that I haven’t thought about my baby brother.”
Bernstein said after the verdict that Patrick would seek an appeal for his sentence, but he declined to discuss his client’s choice to change his plea.