COURTESY ST. LOUIS POLICE
Rey Hernandez was convicted of two counts first-degree murder.
A St. Louis jury this afternoon convicted Rey Hernandez in a 2015 double homicide.
Jurors found the 21-year-old guilty of two counts of first-degree murder and two counts of armed criminal action for killing James Cobb Jr. and Haris Hajdarevic in Bevo Mill
. The conviction comes with a mandatory prison sentence of life without parole.
"Our family is relieved, but it's always going to live with us," a tearful Peggy Cobb said after the verdict.
Hernandez admitted during the three-day trial to firing the fatal shots, but he claimed it was self defense. At the time, he was dating the mother of Cobb's young son, and the two men traded threats on Facebook. Hernandez testified that he had grown afraid Cobb might kill him, so he was trying to buy a gun on the night of October 28, 2015, when he ran into Cobb by pure coincidence.
In Hernandez's telling, he managed to take a gun from Cobb during a scuffle. When Cobb ran to Hajdarevic's car, Hernandez said he opened fire, killing the two friends.
No evidence was presented at trial linking the gun to Cobb, and the story clashed with what Hernandez previously told a detective.
Haris Hajdarevic, left, and James Cobb Jr. were close friends who were shot to death in 2015.
In the hours after the fatal shooting, St. Louis Detective Tom Walsh testified, Hernandez repeatedly changed his story before admitting he was the shooter. Hernandez, then eighteen, told police that the boyfriend of his girlfriend's mother helped him get a gun and then dropped him off outside Cobb's boyhood home on Taft Avenue. Hernandez hid until he saw Cobb get into Hajdaveric's Ford Focus. Then he lit it up, he told police.
Assistant Attorney General Christine Krug, who prosecuted the case, told jurors that was the more believable story.
"It was calculated," she said in her closing statement. "It was deliberate. This is a case of murder in the first-degree."
She finished shortly before 2 p.m., and jurors announced a few minutes after 4 p.m. that they had reached a verdict. Families and friends of Cobb and Hajdarevic sat on one side of the courtroom while Hernandez's mother and supporters sat on the other. A dozen St. Louis Sheriff's deputies posted up throughout the courtroom to keep the peace and more waited in the hallway.
In the end there were only tears. Peggy Cobb held a tissue to her face and wept as Judge Elizabeth Byrne Hogan read four straight guilty verdicts from the jurors' decision. When it was over, Peggy Cobb sought out Hajdarevic's mother, Edina Hajdarevic, and embraced her.
Once their families had left the courtroom, deputies allowed Hernandez's family to move to the front and say goodbye. After sitting quietly through the verdict, Hernandez stood red-eyed in front of his mother as she took his face in her hands and hugged him. Deputies separated them after a few moments and led Hernandez away.
Outside the courthouse, Hajdarevic's brother said his family was too overwhelmed to talk about the case yet. His mother, like Cobb's parents, had testified during the trial and sat on the courtroom benches as a medical examiner described in detail the wounds that had killed her son.
By all accounts, Hajdarevic was simply collateral damage as Hernandez sprayed the car with bullets intended for Cobb.
Peggy Cobb said her family will never get over the violent deaths of her son and his best friend. She took some solace in the fact that jurors rejected Hernandez's depiction of her son as the gun-wielding aggressor. The jurors cleared her son's name, Peggy Cobb said.
"I had faith God would give us justice," she said. "How could he not?"
We welcome tips and feedback. Email the author at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow on Twitter at @DoyleMurphy.