TULSA - Terrico Bethel, the man charged with shooting and killing a Tulsa businessman, Neal Sweeney, in his east Tulsa office in 2008, has been found guilty of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder.
The jury has recommended life without parole for the murder charge. They recommended at 10-year sentence for the conspiracy charge. They also recommended Bethel pay fines totaling $15,000.
"I think the jury's verdict speaks loud and clear," said Tulsa County D.A. Tim Harris. "This kind of execution and murder won't be tolerated in Tulsa, Oklahoma."
Prosecutors told the jury Bethel was hired by Mohammed Aziz, a gas station owner, with the help of Fred and Allen Shields and their cousin Alonzo Johnson.
Investigators believe the shooting was retaliation for Sweeney cutting off fuel to Aziz's gas station because of unpaid bills.
Aziz stunned the courtroom Thursday morning during questioning by the state. Assistant District Attorney Doug Drummond asked why Aziz wanted to have Sweeney killed.
Aziz said, with the help of an interpreter, "When a lion gets a habit of eating meat and drinking blood, you have to find someone to kill it."
Aziz went on to say that Sweeney deserved to be killed because he "screwed" Aziz.
In May 2008, Sweeney's business, Retail Fuels Marketing, received a $239,000 default judgment against Aziz for non-payment for fuel at his three gas stations.
Aziz said he was angry and approached his friend, Allen Shields, to find someone to kill Sweeney.
Aziz testified he agreed to pay $10,000 for the murder, but the Shields brothers and Bethel kept demanding money. Aziz said Bethel came to his store wearing a hoodie and said, "I killed that white guy and I need some money."
The final payment was $11,100.
Aziz has already pleaded guilty and he will not stand trial, but he is expected to receive a lesser sentence for testifying against his co-conspirators.
Bethel is the first of the suspects to stand trial.
Allen Shields agreed to testify against the others, but in April 2011 he killed himself during a police standoff.
Testimony was also heard from Sweeney's coworkers who were in the office when he was killed, as well as Bethel's former cell mate Dolan Prejean, who captured a recording of Bethel's confession while wearing a wire in jail.
An excerpt from the recording is below:
Bethel: "I walked by this lady that was screaming. I walked all the way in. You see his desk. Then boom! Boom! Boom!"
Other testimony came from several police officers who responded to the scene, Sweeney's business partner, Thomas Howell, who said Aziz owed a lot of money at his stations and Aziz was always behind on his bills, and the lead homicide detective, Vic Regaldo.
Bethel's attorney, Sharon Holmes, said jurors did their job.
"We had a panel of 12 citizens who did what they were called to do. They heard all the evidence. They based their decision on that," said Holmes. "We were here to make sure Mr. Bethel got a fair trial and I think that's what we did."
Defense attorneys said they believe there is an argument to be made for an appeal, but that decision will be left up to the criminal appeals court.
Bethel will find out his sentence on Tuesday morning.
Two other defendants, Fred Shields and Alonzo Johnson, have yet to be tried. One of them is expected to go to trial on September 17th.
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