By Joe Johnson
A Superior Court Judge on Monday sentenced an Athens man to life in prison for fatally shooting his best friend last year.
After a trial in March, a Clarke County jury found 22-year-old Darrall Christopher Early guilty of felony murder, voluntary manslaughter, aggravated assault, and possession of a firearm by a convicted first offender probationer for fatally shooting 24-year-old Ramonte Harris.
Presiding judge Lawton Stephens delayed sentencing until this week.
The fatal shooting occurred on Feb. 2, 2019 at Regency Park apartments on Sycamore Drive, where both men lived. Police said that Harris, a.k.a. Blake Griffin, was a known member of the Never Broke Again (NBA) street gang, but they did not believe the shooting was gang-related.
According to Western Judicial Circuit acting District Attorney Brian Patterson, “Mr. Early told the police that the argument centered around Harris’ drug use and the effect it was having on Harris. It was not a drug deal between the two men. Toxicology testing confirmed that Harris was using various controlled substances.”
Patterson said that immediately after the shooting, Early fled the scene, dumped the murder weapon, which was never recovered, changed clothes, and tried to evade capture. He initially lied to police about his involvement in Mr. Harris’s death and then later tried to claim self-defense.
“Mr. Early, who was on felony first offender probation, had absolutely no business having a firearm,” said Patterson, who was lead prosecutor during Early’s four-day trial. "Mr. Early’s decision to gun down his best friend, Ramonte Harris, was totally unjustified as a matter of law and as a matter of fact.
"This kind of violence has absolutely no place in our community," Patterson said. "Ramonte Harris’ death is tragic and senseless. He leaves behind a family, including two young children."