A man charged with killing his girlfriend, a Temple senior, last year was sentenced to life without parole on Tuesday.
Judge Rose DeFino-Nastasi sentenced Brandon Meade, 29, after a jury unanimously found him guilty of first-degree murder and possession of an instrument of crime.
Agatha Hall, a 21-year-old senior finance major who was dating Meade, was found dead in her apartment on Park Avenue near York Street in August 2015. Philadelphia Police detectives, seeing a gunshot wound in Hall’s head, initially called her death a suicide, but the city medical examiner later determined that it was a homicide. Meade was arrested a month later and charged with Hall’s murder.
Meade and Hall’s friends and families sat clearly divided on each side of the courtroom Tuesday afternoon before hearing the jury deliver its verdict.
After two hours of deliberation, a member of the jury stood and said they had found Meade guilty on counts of first-degree murder and possessing an instrument of crime.
During closing arguments earlier that morning, Meade’s defense attorney, Evan Hughes, asked the jury to find Meade not guilty of all charges.
Hughes walked over to the jurors’ seats after patting Meade on the shoulder.
“Think about the evolving nature of the commonwealth’s case from suicide to homicide,” Hughes said. “But what we have here is a case that was originally a suicide, which is correct.”
Hughes argued that specific details of the prosecution’s witnesses did not line up.
“We didn’t even hear from [Bruce Wainer],” he added.
Wainer, an associate medical examiner for the city, performed the autopsy for Hall’s body. Instead, the prosecution used the testimony of chief medical examiner Sam Gulino.
On Friday and Monday, both Hughes and the prosecutor, Assistant District Attorney Andrew Notarstefano, tried to convince the jury of the distance from which Hall had been shot. Notarstefano, using the testimony of a firearms analyst from Philadelphia Police, said the muzzle of the gun was fired from 15 to 22 inches away from Hall’s head. Notarstefano argued that from that distance, Hall could not have shot herself.
Hughes countered with Carl Leisinger III, a private ballistics consultant, who said Hall had been shot from between 4 and 8 inches away.
On Tuesday, Hughes argued before the jury that the prosecution’s evidence was all “hypothesis.”
“This is a suicide that happened behind closed doors,” he said. “That’s all it was.”
Notarstefano said circumstantial evidence could prove Meade was the one who killed Hall.
“He snapped. He killed his girlfriend in a jealous rage,” he said. “Then he got caught and went back. The circumstantial evidence is so powerful.”
Notarstefano walked the jury through a timeline of events he had constructed from police reports and testimony of the night Hall died. Notarstefano said Meade had staged Hall’s body and her room so it appeared that she had committed suicide.
Notarstefano also tried to discredit Leisinger’s testimony by saying Leisinger was getting paid to provide his testimony.
“He outsteps his credentials to give his medical opinion,” Notarstefano said of the ballistics expert.
After Notarstefano finished his closing argument, DeFino-Nastasi instructed the jury on how to consider the evidence and testimonies they were presented with over the course of the trial.
She explained in detail the types of evidence they had been presented with and the complete definitions of the charges brought forth against Meade. The jury then left the courtroom to deliberate just before 1 p.m.
Then, at about 4:20 p.m., Meade’s and Hall’s friends and family returned to the courtroom to hear the guilty verdict. After it was delivered, Hughes asked to poll the jury of their findings. Each said they agreed with the verdict the foreperson had delivered.
Notarstefano then asked DeFino-Nastasi if the court could proceed right to sentencing.
Then, Hall’s aunt, Agatha Badio, stood before DeFino-Nastasi and said that even though there was nothing that could be done, she asked the judge to show Meade mercy.
“This has torn my family apart,” she said. “But it’s not just one family that was destroyed. Two lives have been destroyed.”
Meade declined to say anything to the judge before receiving his sentence. He was escorted out of the courtroom and after several minutes, the bailiff returned Meade’s suit to his mother.
“We’re not asking for vengeance because we don’t want vengeance,” Badio told Judge DeFino-Nastasi before the sentence was formally given.
“We will ask for mercy for him.”
Julie Christie can be reached at @ChristieJules on Twitter or via email firstname.lastname@example.org.