A Killeen man was found guilty of manslaughter Thursday in a deadly downtown Austin shooting during Texas Relays weekend in March 2013.
Travis County jurors deliberated for eight hours before returning the verdict against Derrick Leroy Kuykendall, who faces up to 20 years in prison in the killing of Bennie Heslip, 23, of Pflugerville. Testimony in the sentencing phase of his murder trial began shortly after the jury reached its verdict.
Kuykendall had been charged with first-degree felony murder.
In court over the past week and a half, witnesses have said that Kuykendall, also 23, and Heslip, who did not know each other, had been leaving Sixth Street after bar hopping when a dispute erupted between their separate groups of friends at a parking lot on East 11th and Trinity streets.
Friends of the men said Kuykendall’s girlfriend started the fight when she began arguing with women in the vehicle Heslip was in, yelling that they were blocking them from leaving. The fight escalated as friends got out of their cars, some shouting back, others trying to defuse the situation, until Kuykendall fired twice at Heslip, who had placed his hands on the defendant’s shoulders, according to the testimony.
In closing arguments Wednesday before visiting judge Bert Richardson from San Antonio, Assistant District Attorney Marc Chavez called Kuykendall’s actions and testimony on the stand “ridiculous,” saying there were no reasons to justify what the young man did. The prosecutor called into question the credibility of the defendant, who court records show had been convicted of a felony offense for tampering with evidence and had been on community supervision at the time of shooting.
He was not supposed to be in Travis County, nor was he supposed to be drinking or visiting bars, Chavez said. He also was not allowed to have a gun, though he was the only person involved in the argument who had a weapon, the prosecutor said.
“He cannot follow the rules of his probation, and he is going to feed you this story that four guys were attacking him?” Chavez asked. “What are you doing bringing a gun to Sixth Street if you don’t know what kind of harm you are going to cause?”
But defense lawyers Jackie Wood and Karen Gross contended their client was a scared young man who acted out of an instinct of survival, and was not a cold-blooded killer. They said Kuykendall’s best friend had been shot to death in New Orleans a few weeks before the fatal Austin incident. Kuykendall suffered a back injury in a different incident, an August 2011 drive-by shooting in Killeen.
Kuykendall did not lie or exaggerate his fear on the stand, Wood said. He did not say the men were charging at him or attacking him, but that they had quickly approached him, though he and all the other witnesses in trial had testified that Kuykendall had not said or done anything to call attention to himself or provoke anyone, Wood said.
“What were Bennie’s intentions that night? We will never know,” Wood said. “But you have to look at the situation from (Kuykendall’s) perspective. … He did not think he could defend himself any other way.”
Correction: This article has been updated to reflect the fact that Derrick Kuykendall attended the funeral of a friend who was shot in New Orleans a few weeks before the downtown Austin shooting. Kuykendall suffered a back injury in a different incident, an August 2011 drive-by shooting in Killeen.