“He said, ‘Don’t worry, I’m going to find out who killed Bradley,’” Oyo Eyo, the father of the victim, testified Wednesday in a Dallas County courtroom. “He seemed normal, he wasn’t suspicious. I didn’t think anything of it.”
Dallas County jurors on Thursday convicted the son of former Dallas Mavericks player Nick Van Exel of murder in the December 2010 shooting of his best friend in Garland.
Prosecutors had argued that Nickey Van Exel, 22, committed capital murder when he killed Bradley Eyo, 23, because his motive was retaliation for Eyo’s plans to “snitch.” They said that Van Exel killed Eyo 10 days before he was to tell Harris County authorities about armed robberies the two men committed together earlier that year.
“Snitches get stitches,” prosecutor Elaine Evans said in closing arguments Thursday. “In this case, he’s dead.”
But after more than two hours of deliberations, jurors opted for a conviction on the lesser charge of murder, which gives them far more leeway when they begin deliberating Van Exel’s punishment after testimony Friday. The first-degree felony carries a punishment ranging from five years to life in prison.
A capital murder conviction would have triggered an automatic life sentence.
State District Judge Tracy Holmes warned everyone in the courtroom not to react in any way to the reading of the verdict. It appeared that all complied.
Van Exel had no visible reaction. His father, now an assistant coach with the Atlanta Hawks, left the courtroom through a back exit without commenting.
Defense attorneys Paul Johnson and Rick Harrison had asked for a conviction of manslaughter, a second-degree felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison.
“The evidence in this case proves that he is guilty of manslaughter, nothing more and nothing less,” said Johnson, who called the killing a “tragic accident.”
Van Exel told police he accidentally shot his friend at Van Exel’s Garland home. His actions after the killing suggested it was not an accident, prosecutors said.
After shooting his friend, he wrapped him in plastic, dragged him to his garage and loaded him into the back of his Chevrolet sport utility vehicle, according to police documents.
He then drove to an area just west of Lake Ray Hubbard and dumped the body.
“Is that accidental?” prosecutor Josh Healy said in closing arguments. “Is that somebody who pulled the trigger he didn’t think was loaded?”
Van Exel then went back to his Garland home and cleaned his bedroom and stairs and then left again. This time, he got rid of the gun in a North Dallas creek, he told police.
Days later, Johnson accompanied his client to Jack Evans Police Headquarters, where Van Exel spoke to Dallas police. They arrested him on a capital murder charge, but investigators downgraded it to manslaughter in early January 2011. Later that month, Van Exel was indicted on a charge of manslaughter.
But prosecutors did further investigating of the Harris County cases. Eyo had been charged in connection with a series of May 2010 Houston robberies that authorities believe he committed with Van Exel, who was not charged because police lacked evidence against him.
Shortly before his death, Eyo pleaded guilty and was expected to detail the crime and implicate his accomplice at a sentencing hearing, according to prosecutors. Eyo told Van Exel of his plans, according to testimony, and prosecutors believe that is why Van Exel killed his longtime friend.