A judge late Friday afternoon found Tajh Ross guilty of first-degree murder in the fatal shooting of 19-year-old Latasha Roundtree in 2012.
Sixth Judicial District Judge Robert Sosalla said Ross made a series of deliberate acts — crossing the street, positioning himself out of view of the cart, taking aim at the car, making sure his friend was out of the way and pulling the trigger.
“Each of those decisions required some deliberation on his part,” Sosalla said in his ruling. “Each reflects the presence of malice aforethought and premeditation. Finally, Ross took each of these actions intentionally, with a fixed purpose, and not accidentally.”
Sosalla found Ross, 20, of Cedar Rapids, guilty of first-degree murder, going armed with intent and intimidation with a dangerous weapon. He found him not guilty of the fourth charge, conspiracy to commit a forcible felony.
Ross faces life in prison without parole. His sentencing is set Oct. 3, in Linn County District Court.
Ross shot and killed Roundtree while she was a passenger in a car Sept. 22, 2012. She was with two friends as they were headed to a party where Ross was also that night. Roundtree wasn’t targeted that night but Ross admitted during the trial to shooting at the car. According to evidence, Ross was the only one with the .40 caliber weapon that night and that gun, recovered at the scene, was the murder weapon.
First Assistant Linn County Attorney Nick Maybanks said late Friday he wanted to thank Sosalla for his time and attention during the two week trial, and he also wanted to acknowledge the “hard work” of the Cedar Rapids Police Department during the long investigation.
“They never wavered in quest to obtain justice for Latasha Roundtree,” Maybanks said. “Finally, we hope this verdict provides some peace to the Roundtree family. Tasha might be gone but her memory lives on in the hearts of her loyal family and friends. You can see it in their faces and the tears they’ve shed since September 2012.
In Sosalla’s ruling, he said Ross’s actions that night also provide circumstantial evidence of his specific intent to kill.
“‘Specific intent’ means not only being aware of doing an act and doing it voluntarily, but in addition, doing it with specific purpose in mind,” Sosalla said.
Ross deliberately chambered a round in the gun, aimed it and fired at the car, Sosalla said. He had specific intent to kill whoever was seated in the front passenger seat. He didn’t know the person by name but he knew his actions would likely result in a death, Sosalla said.
The judge pointed out Ross’s actions after the shooting further showed his state of mind. After firing the gun, he ran back to the alley to a place where he could see the car. This response was deliberation on his part. Ross said he intended to fire warning shots over the car but “common sense would lead one to conclude that warning shots at this time were not necessary” because the car was speeding away.
Ross during the trial claimed self-defense or defense of another, but Sosalla said according to evidence Ross could have taken alternative actions to avoid danger but he didn’t. He could have walked away, he could have called the police, or looked for shelter in a public area but he “elected to stay and fight an unknown entity.”
“Finally, Ross’s use of deadly force under the circumstances was not reasonable,” Sosalla said. “All he can point to as a reason for firing is he saw the back passenger side window start to go down before he shot. He saw no weapon. He saw no person. And he fired at the front passenger whose window remained up.”
Sosalla said the state failed to prove the conspiracy charge because there was no evidence that showed any agreement existed among Ross, and the other defendants convicted in this case — Liban and Yasin Muhidin, Jeremiah Ellis and Adrian Kenney — to commit the offenses.
Ellis, the only other person who fired a gun that night, acted independently of Ross’s acts, Sosalla said. They all agreed to tell police a story of what happened that night but this occurred after the offense of intimidation with a dangerous weapon and doesn’t support an existing conspiracy.
The other defendants in this case have pleaded guilty to lesser charges and haven’t been sentenced at this time.
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