Mistrial declared for man charged with killing William & Mary football player during Norfolk drug deal

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NORFOLK — The case against one of two men charged in the March 2019 shooting death of William & Mary football player Nate Evans ended Friday with a mistrial.

Circuit Judge Robert Rigney made the ruling after the jury announced it couldn’t agree on a verdict after nearly five hours of deliberations. Prosecutors said afterward that they will retry the case.

Keith Bryant, 24, is charged with first-degree murder and illegal use of a firearm in the slaying. His longtime friend Kri’Shawn “Pocket” Beamon also is charged, and was the star witness for the prosecution. Beamon is scheduled for trial in June.

The shooting happened shortly before midnight outside a house party near Old Dominion University.

Evans — 19 and a sophomore running back — had agreed to meet Beamon at a house on W. 43rd Street near Colley Avenue for a drug deal, according to prosecutors. Beamon, then 20, had purchased marijuana from the football player once before, and arranged to buy a pound from him that night. Evans’ longtime friend Jack Rettig, then a sophomore at Old Dominion University, went along with Evans.

Beamon met the men as they drove up to the house, got into the back of Evans’ car, then took off running with the marijuana without paying, according to prosecutors. Evans ran after him and was shot twice. He died at the scene.

Rettig testified that after the gunshots, he heard someone say, “Don’t (expletive) with Pocket (expletive).” He didn’t see who fired the shots or who made the statement.

Arriving officers found Beamon’s cellphone at the crime scene. A fugitive squad located him a few days later and charged him with murder, robbery and illegal use of a firearm.

It wasn’t until three years later that Beamon, who’d been held without bond since his arrest, met with his attorney and prosecutors and told them someone else had fired the fatal shots. The person he pointed to was Bryant.

Beamon told them Bryant was at the house party, that he knew Bryant had a gun, and that he’d asked Bryant to come along. He said they fled in different cars after Evans was shot, and that Bryant told him later that he was the one who shot Evans.

Defense attorneys James Broccoletti and Mario Lorello called the police work in the case “incompetent” and “inept.” Numerous witnesses were not interviewed or followed up with, they said, and the lead detective’s record-keeping was poor. When the murder weapon was discovered weeks later, after a shootout between two cars in Suffolk, Norfolk detectives didn’t even attempt to interview the eight people involved to find out how they got the gun.

The defense lawyers argued that Beamon came up with the new story in an effort to get released on bond while awaiting trial, and to try to secure a deal with prosecutors that would allow him to get off with time served. They also argued that the only thing tying Bryant to the crime was Beamon, who they described as an unreliable witness.

“They want you to convict someone of first-degree murder solely on his testimony,” Lorello told jurors in his closing argument. “He’s using this case as a get-out-of-jail-free card … He has everything to gain and nothing to lose.”

But Senior Commonwealth’s Attorney Gordon Ufkes said prosecutors have not offered any deals to Beamon in exchange for his testimony. They also opposed his requests for bond, Ufkes said, which Beamon still managed to get a few months after he came forward.

“We don’t like Kri’Shawn Beamon either, but that doesn’t mean he’s not credible. That he’s not truthful,” Ufkes said.

Beamon and Bryant had been friends since childhood, and it was difficult for Beamon to point the finger at his friend, the prosecutor said.

Ufkes also argued that Bryant’s phone records placed him at the crime, as well as in the area of the house in Portsmouth that Beamon said they fled to afterward. Lorello, however, said the defense never denied that their client was at the house party, and that it made sense that his phone was pinging in Portsmouth afterward because that’s where he lived.

Jane Harper, jane.harper@pilotonline.com