Jury: Dion Beard Jr. not guilty of murder, manslaughter

Liz Evans Scolforo
York Dispatch
Police investigate a fatal shooting in the 200 block of West Maple Street Friday, April 14, 2017. Bill Kalina photo

Jurors took about 5½ hours Friday to acquit Dion Beard Jr. of both first-degree murder and voluntary manslaughter, instead convicting him of the lesser offense of reckless endangerment.

Presiding Common Pleas Judge Gregory M. Snyder set bail for Beard at $5,000 unsecured and ordered Beard be released forthwith to await sentencing, set for Jan. 28.

Reckless endangerment is a second-degree misdemeanor. For Beard, who has no criminal record, the state sentencing guidelines call for a low-end sentence of probation, according to defense attorney Brian Perry.

Beard, 29, of York City, has spent about 19 months in York County Prison awaiting trial, Perry said.

After the verdict was announced about 6 p.m. Friday, Nov. 16, crying could be heard from both supporters of Beard and from loved ones of homicide victim Collin McGlen Smith Jr. Both sides packed the courtroom throughout the trial.

When court adjourned, emotions ran high for a few members of Smith's family.

Several cried and cursed, and one man started screaming in the courtroom: "He didn't deserve this, man!" and called Smith his brother.

People who had been sitting with that man convinced him to leave the courtroom, with help from York County sheriff's deputies, but he continued to yell in the hallway before eventually leaving.

'It's about to get crazy': The majority of Smith's loved ones, who were clearly upset by the verdict, simply left the courtroom quietly. Once in the hallway, one woman expressed frustration and anger, saying Beard got away with murder.

"I'm telling you, it's about to get crazy," she warned while looking directly at a York Dispatch reporter.

Perry said his client will be staying at a safe, undisclosed location. 

Deputies asked Beard's supporters to remain in the courtroom until Smith's loved ones left the courthouse and monitored both groups to make sure there were no confrontations.

Dion Beard

Beard cried when he heard the verdict, his attorney said.

"He's happy to be going home after 19 months," Perry said. "Nobody feels good about what happened to Mr. Smith."

Chief deputy prosecutor Chuck Murphy declined comment until after Beard is sentenced.

The trial: Beard took the witness stand in his own defense Friday, telling jurors he had been avoiding confrontations with — and threats made by — Smith for years before he fatally shot Smith in self-defense.

Beard, 29, who has a young son with a woman who previously dated Smith, testified he always avoided five years' worth of confrontations with "CJ" Smith by walking away. He told jurors he even moved to New York state to avoid Smith.

Jurors began deliberating Beard's fate about noon after a four-day trial in York County Court.

During his closing argument Friday, Perry hit hard on Smith's alleged reputation for violence and stressed the 22-year-old York City man's 2016 conviction for illegally possessing a firearm. The jury didn't hear that the charge Smith pleaded guilty to was being a convicted felon in illegal possession of a firearm.

Homicide victim Collin McGlen Smith Jr.

Perry reminded jurors that several well-respected members of York City's community testified as character witnesses for Beard, telling jurors his reputation is that of a peaceable, nonviolent, law-abiding man.

Leaders vouched for Beard: Those character witnesses were York City Councilwoman Judy Ritter-Dickson, Pastor Adrian Boxley of Jabez Ministries and the Rev. Aaron Willford Jr., pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church. Jurors heard Beard and his family are lifetime residents of York City.

Beard legally owned the handgun he used to fire at Smith 12 times on April 14, 2017, near the corner of West Maple and Manor streets in the city, and had a permit to carry concealed weapons, Perry argued.

Smith was struck by multiple gunshots to his head and neck and two gunshots to his back.

Murphy argued to jurors that evidence shows Beard didn't kill Smith in self-defense. Murphy prosecuted the case with senior deputy prosecutor Renee Franchi.

Beard fled the scene, ditched his gun and hid out for several days, Murphy reminded the jury. He argued those are the actions of someone displaying consciousness of guilt.

Responders investigate a fatal shooting in the 200 block of West Maple Street Friday, April 14, 2017. Bill Kalina photo

Had enough? "He had enough," Murphy said.

According to trial testimony, Beard walked from his aunt's West Maple Street home to the corner store at Maple and Manor to buy milk for his 1-year-old son.

After leaving the store, Beard encountered Smith hanging out nearby and fatally shot him.

Beard told jurors that Smith had been threatening to hurt and kill him for years, and that things had escalated. He said Smith followed him to three different areas of the city that day.

Beard testified he pulled his handgun and fired after he saw Smith reach for a gun in his waistband.

Police didn't find a gun in Smith's possession. One of Beard's uncles testified he saw someone rifling through the homicide victim's pockets before fleeing the scene.

"I could feel the hairs on the back of my neck standing up," Beard said of spotting Smith "ghosting" him earlier that day as Beard was taking his son out of a vehicle.

— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at levans@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.