CASSOPOLIS — Guilty on all counts. That was the verdict of a Cass County jury Wednesday in the murder trial of Jaren Wade. Wade was convicted on all seven counts he faced including one count of first-degree murder.
Wade, 20, stands convicted of murdering 29-year-old Darius Nickens on April 13 at a home in the 200 block of Grand Boulevard in Dowagiac. Testimony established that Nickens was shot once in the arm and twice in the back.
Both Wade and Nickens were Dowagiac residents at the time.
Cass Prosecutor Victor Fitz tried the case for the people and said he was very satisfied with the verdict. "Justice prevailed for the victim and his family," he said. "Mr. Wade killed him execution style and the jury's verdict reflected that truth. ... He committed a terrible crime. The killing was merciless and execution style."
Fitz said he thought the jury saw through the defense efforts to claim self-defense or that it wasn't premeditated. "I think the jury saw through the defendant's subterfuge," he said. "He clearly had a second chance to think through what he was doing. Clearly the killing was a retaliation killing because he felt disrespected."
Fitz said there were both sighs of relief and quiet sobs from Nickens' family when the guilty verdict was read in court Wednesday.
The verdict came after five days of testimony and nearly five hours of deliberation by the seven-man, five-woman jury beginning late Tuesday afternoon. Wade was found guilty of not only first-degree murder but carrying a weapon with unlawful intent, carrying a concealed weapon, unlawful driving away of a motor vehicle and three counts of felony firearm.
Wade stole a friend's car to escape after the shooting. The car was recovered in Elkhart while the murder weapon was found in a Cass County cornfield.
Wade will be sentenced June 1 in Cass Circuit Court by Judge Michael Dodge.
First-degree murder carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison while the two carrying a weapon charges and the unlawful driving away of a motor vehicle charge carry five-year maximum penalties. The felony firearm charges carry terms of two years in prison consecutive to other terms.
Testimony in the trial that began last Tuesday came from several people including Nickens' niece who was Wade's girlfriend as well as other friends and acquaintances. Witnesses testified not only about what happened at the time of the murder but also the physical altercation the two had the night before the murder.