GREENSBORO — Shonta Durham collapsed toward the defense table and began sobbing Friday as she learned that jurors had found her not guilty in a murder-for-hire plot.
Durham, 40, of Greensboro was on trial in Guilford County Superior Court on charges of attempted first-degree murder, assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill, conspiracy and discharging a firearm into an occupied property.
But before jurors began deliberations Friday morning, Judge Eric Morgan dismissed the attempted first-degree murder and conspiracy charges for lack of sufficient evidence.
That left jurors to decide whether Durham committed the other two crimes — and within two hours they decided she hadn’t.
Once she regained her composure, Durham playfully punched her attorney’s arm and the two embraced.
“I’m very happy,” defense attorney Wayne Baucino said. “And absolutely, positively believe that justice was done in this case.”
Durham’s mother, Cynthia Eleby, had been in the courtroom the entire trial. After the verdict, two other family members waited with her outside the courtroom to learn when Durham would be released from jail.
“I’m very grateful she has the opportunity to come home,” Eleby said.
Eleby had spent the past three days listening to two different stories — one, that her daughter, a Greensboro escort, aided a plot to kill a man’s wife so she could have him to herself; the second, that the husband hired two other people to kill his wife so he wouldn’t lose half of his possessions in a divorce.
On March 28, 2013, Danielle Tyler was driving home from a Walmart store when a car pulled in front of her, blocking her path. A passenger in the car got out and opened fire. Tyler survived the shooting, but a bullet remains lodged in the muscle under her arm.
Deputies considered Tyler’s shooting a cold case until 2017, when Durham called the Guilford County Sheriff’s Office.
She said that she had been having an affair with Tyler’s husband, Malcolm, at the time of the shooting and knew that the alleged shooter was Dennis Shaw Jr. She said she thought the car’s driver was his brother.
“No good deed goes unpunished,” said Baucino, because when sheriff’s deputies talked with Shaw and told him that Durham had named him as the shooter, he said Durham was the driver.
“What reasonable person knowing that they were guilty would call police and ask them to investigate the crime,” Baucino asked jurors in his closing argument. “It doesn’t make any sense.”
Shaw, who also faces charges in the shooting, took the stand Thursday and testified that he shot Danielle Tyler and that Durham was the driver. But details of his story changed from what he had told deputies — a conversation recorded and played for jurors during the hearing.
That made both the defense and prosecution question his credibility.
Baucino reminded jurors that Shaw’s statements to deputies were the only evidence that put Durham in handcuffs.
He urged them to consider her innocence.
“The state hasn’t proven its case,” Baucino said. “It hasn’t come close. Send her home and find her not guilty.”