Man convicted in Collier's shooting

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- A jury convicted an ex-con Thursday of attempted first-degree murder in the shooting of former Jacksonville Jaguars offensive lineman Richard Collier in 2008.

The six-person jury deliberated two hours and 45 minutes before returning its verdict against Tyrone Hartsfield, 33, at the end of a nine-day trial.

Hartsfield faces up to life in prison when he is sentenced in December. He still faces a charge of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, but it's not clear if prosecutors will pursue it.

Hartsfield was visibly shaken by the verdict and his sister went into hysterics and had to be led from the courtroom.

After the verdict, Hartsfield surprised his attorneys and the judge when he asked to make a statement.

"I feel like I didn't receive a fair trial," he said, adding his case should have been moved to another city.

He also complained that his trial was held amid the Florida-Georgia football game and in the home of the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Collier watched much of the closing arguments while seated in his wheelchair in the courtroom gallery. He was shot six times as he waited in his car outside a Jacksonville apartment building. Collier was paralyzed from the waist down and his left leg was amputated.

After the verdict, Collier said he felt the jury made the right decision.

"Stuff like this has to end," he said. "I can't smile because this is sickening to me."

Collier said he was able to endure because of his faith and his family.

"My life is good," he said.

In closing arguments, Assistant State Attorney Bernie de la Rionda reminded the jury of the attack on Collier.

"Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2008, is a day that Richard Collier will never forget. How could he? He's got a constant reminder every time he tries to move," de la Rionda said.

Thursday was Collier's first appearance at the trial since he testified on the opening day. Both he and his teammate, Kenny Pettway, testified they did not see anything when a gunman fired six shots into Collier's Escalade.

Ann Finnell, one of Hartsfield's attorneys, said she believes Hartsfield is innocent and she plans to appeal.

"My opinion is they have the wrong man and Mr. Hartsfield didn't do this," she said after the verdict.

In closing arguments, she argued that the entire case against her client was built on circumstantial evidence.

But after the verdict, de la Rionda said he believed that was one of the keys to victory.

"When you put all the things together, circumstantial evidence is even better than direct evidence because it gets at the truth," he said.

Hartsfield had the motive and opportunity to shoot Collier, de la Rionda said in closing arguments, explaining that Hartsfield was seeking revenge after he was knocked out in a fight with Collier in April at a night club. The prosecutor said Hartsfield followed Collier's car from a club and then sneaked up and shot him.

"He had to take the cowardly way out," de la Rionda said. "He had to get him from behind. He couldn't even look in the face when he shot him. It was payback and revenge."

Finnell pointed out the problems with statements made by Stephfan Wilson, a convicted bank robber, who testified he rode with Hartsfield to the shooting scene and then heard multiple gunshots.

Hartsfield took the stand in his own defense Wednesday and denied any involvement in the shooting. Hartsfield testified he has six felony convictions and he has served at least two terms in Florida prisons.

Collier grew up in Shreveport, La., and attended Tyler Junior College in Texas, where a counselor steered him toward the football office. Collier transferred to Division II Valdosta State in Georgia and won a national championship. The Jaguars invited him to camp and he beat out several veterans to earn a spot on the 53-man roster.