A Dallas County jury convicted a man Thursday of capital murder for fatally shooting a couple on their front porch after following them home from the Ethiopian restaurant they owned.
Abey Belette Girma was automatically sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the August 2012 murders of Yayehyirad “Yared” Lemma, 40, and Yenenesh “Yenni” Desta, 31.
All three were originally from Ethiopia.
Prosecutors believe Girma, 38, became obsessed with Desta. But they said he apparently didn’t know her aside from eating at the couple’s restaurant, Desta.
After the verdict, Lemma’s sister, who gave her name as Y. Lemma, took the witness stand to tell Girma about the effect the couple’s murder has had on the families. Many of those relatives packed the courtroom during the trial this week.
Y. Lemma repeatedly pleaded with Girma to look her in the eye as she spoke. He did not appear to do so.
“You are going to suffer in this world,” she said, her voice strong and full of emotion. “But you are going to suffer even more in hell.”
The couple were shot and killed just after midnight outside their home in the M Streets neighborhood of Dallas. Police linked Girma to the crime when a co-worker contacted police after Girma forced him to drive to Kansas. The co-worker told police Girma admitted the murders.
Police documents said Girma told officers he shot the couple on their front porch because they “disrespected” him.
Girma told police that he had a relationship with Desta, according to testimony. But police and prosecutors found no evidence that a relationship existed.
Prosecutor Jerry Varney told jurors that the idea Girma had a relationship with Desta is “a bunch of nonsense.”
Girma’s defense attorney, Juan Sanchez, had urged jurors to convict Girma of the lesser charge of manslaughter. Sanchez said Girma was reckless but his actions were not intentional.
“It doesn’t make him innocent,” Sanchez said. “But it doesn’t make him guilty of what the state has charged.”
But Varney and fellow prosecutor Herschel Woods told jurors that shooting Desta and Lemma three times each shows the act was intentional. Varney said the only proper verdict was a capital murder conviction.
“He has earned that sentence through his actions,” Varney told jurors. “You won’t surprise him one bit by giving it to him.”
During testimony Thursday, jurors saw autopsy photos of Lemma and Desta. The couple’s relatives cried softly as photos showing gunshot wounds appeared on screens in the courtroom.
Several family members walked out of the courtroom after seeing the photos. Lemma’s mother fell down almost soundlessly in the aisle as she tried to leave court. After several moments, relatives and court personnel helped her walk out of the courtroom.
The couple’s family now runs Desta, on Greenville Avenue between Forest Lane and LBJ Freeway. Lemma’s mother cares for the couple’s son, who is now 3. The boy, who was born prematurely and weighed just over a pound, was inside with his grandmother when his parents were slain. “You thought we would fail as a family. We did not,” Y. Lemma told Girma. “You made us strong.”
Follow Jennifer Emily on Twitter at @dallascourts.