Lehigh Valley

Convicted killer sentenced to life in prison for fatal Palmer Twp. shooting

A jury deadlocked this week on the death penalty

EASTON, Pa. - A Northampton County judge on Friday formally sentenced an Easton man to life in prison in connection to a 2017 fatal shooting outside a Palmer Township AutoZone.

The judge also ordered a hearing for a prosecution witness who skipped town and refused to testify during the trial.

Jurors last week convicted Dekota Baptiste of first-degree murder in the shooting death of 36-year-old Terrance Ferguson. The same jury on Tuesday was unable to reach a decision on his sentencing, meaning the 26-year-old will automatically serve life in prison without the possibility of parole.

On the first day of the trial, prosecutors called Thressa Duarte to testify. Duarte was in the front passenger seat of the car as Baptiste fired across her at Ferguson. Investigators had maintined that she and Baptiste had been in a relationship, which led to a beef between the two men.

Duarte was emotionally unable to testify and dismissed for the day. When she failed to appear in court the next day, the judge issued a bench warrant. Duarte never turned up, and the Northampton County District Attorney's Office rested its case without her testimony.

Duarte appeared before Northampton County Judge Samuel Murray Friday afternoon seated in a wheelchair before Baptiste was sentenced.

The judge read into the record the circumstances surrounding the warrant and an outstanding domestic relations warrant against Duarte. Murray paused momentarily to address Duarte.

"Am I taking up your time?” he said.

"No,” Duarte replied.

"Then pay attention and look at me when I'm speaking,” Murray said.

Duarte told the judge that she was most recently staying at her grandmother's house in Easton. Before that, she was in Bethlehem.

When asked by the judge where she went after failing to appear in court, Duarte said she was in Pittsburgh for about a week. She told Murray that she was scared to testify.

The judge set Duarte's bail at $1 million, citing the fact she was a severe flight risk.

"She was a material witness in a first-degree murder case, and she didn't show up," he said.

A contempt hearing is scheduled for June 7.

As for Baptiste, Murray sentenced him to an additional 19 to 51 years in prison for his convictions on the other crimes. Despite the life sentence without a chance for parole, the judge said the sentence was still important considering the seriousness of the other charges that applied to another victim.

"It occurred in public in a very open and dangerous manner," Murray said.

The judge told Baptiste that he unloaded his gun outside an open business where people were having their cars worked on in the "zone of danger you created." Ferguson's family testified that his mother didn't come to the trial because it was too hard for her to leave the house and his death left his 2-year-old daughter without a father, Murray said.

Baptiste declined to address the court and only shook his head once when the judge formally sentenced him to life in prison.

During the trial, the defense didn’t dispute that Baptiste shot into Ferguson’s car, but they argued that the now 26-year-old acted in self-defense, firing at the car when Ferguson allegedly tried to run him down after the two men spoke in the parking lot.

During the trial, the defense presented testimony from a crash reconstruction expert. He testified that damage to the two men’s cars and fluid trails from the damaged oil pan on Baptiste’s car supported the claim that Ferguson drove back and forth in a parking spot, hitting cars and trying to run down Baptiste.

Prosecutors countered that the two men had a disagreement over Duarte. Baptiste denied during the trial that he and Duarte had a relationship. His long-time and now ex-girlfriend also testified during the penalty phase that Duarte and Baptiste had not been in a relationship.

The prosecution argued that Baptiste spoke to Ferguson through the driver’s side window the night of the shooting before moving to the other side of the car and firing six shots, hitting Ferguson four times. The damage to the vehicles, they argued, happened as Ferguson tried to get away.

Along with a first-degree murder charge, the jury found Baptiste guilty of attempted homicide, two counts of aggravated assault, reckless endangerment, receiving stolen property, weapons possession, carrying a firearm without a license and fleeing and eluding.


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