A Travis County jury late Thursday convicted Kaitlyn Ritcherson of murder in the death of collegiate track star Fatima Barrie, following more than eight hours of deliberations.
In tense moments after the verdict was read, Ritcherson, who turned 21 last week, sobbed loudly, yelling, “Why?” and “No, no,” as her lawyers and family members embraced and attempted to console her. Outside the courtroom, Barrie’s brother, Rodrick Watson, told reporters he believed justice was served.
“More than anything, it is a huge relief after all the challenges, especially for my mother,” Watson said.
Ritcherson’s lawyers, Charlie Baird and Amber Farrelly, said they were disappointed with the jury’s decision. “We thought the conduct that Kaitlyn Ritcherson engaged in that night was justified under the law, and we believed we put on a strong case to show that,” Baird said.
Ritcherson is facing up to life in prison for the first-degree felony. The punishment phase will begin Friday morning.
Her case, which in May resulted in a mistrial when a jury could not reach a unanimous decision, was a difficult one for jurors as no downtown Austin security cameras captured the fight between the women, and their friends have given varying testimony as to who was the aggressor.
In closing arguments Thursday morning, Assistant District Attorney Gary Cobb and defense lawyer Charlie Baird assailed the credibility of each side’s witnesses and interrupted each other with objections, at times bickering in hushed tones in front of retired Judge Bob Perkins.
Sometimes the jabs got personal, with Baird objecting to Cobb insinuating that Baird’s co-counsel was a liar and later calling Cobb a coward for doing so.
Witnesses have said Ritcherson stabbed Barrie with a small knife on Dec. 4, 2011, just as bars were closing and people were flooding the streets outside of Republic Live on West Fifth Street. Seventeen days after the incident, Barrie, a 21-year-old junior biology major at Huston-Tillotson University, died from her injuries.
She and Ritcherson, then a high school student who worked at two clothing stores, did not know each other.
Friends of Barrie have said Ritcherson and another woman were being loud outside the club and had tried to instigate an argument with Barrie and a track teammate, Jamie Hopkins. When Barrie and Hopkins tried to walk away, one of the other women pulled Hopkins’ hair and a fight broke out, witnesses said.
But friends of Ritcherson have said Barrie started the fight after a group of her male friends started arguing inside the club with a male friend of Ritcherson’s. Barrie took off her shoes and lunged at Ritcherson three times, once striking her over the forehead with what appeared to be a cellphone, they said.
One man who had been with Ritcherson that night took the stand Wednesday as a rebuttal witness for the state. He said Ritcherson and her friend had been noisily making fun of Barrie and what she was wearing. “That was something Kaitlyn did to a lot of people,” he said.
In closing, Cobb argued that the testimony of Britney Carson, a friend of Ritcherson’s who he called the defense team’s “star witness,” had not been corroborated by other people at the scene and that she was lying.
On the stand, Carson had told jurors she saw Ritcherson trembling as Barrie lunged at her several times. But prosecutors said Ritcherson, who also was injured, went to a medical center far from downtown and was rude to the nurses, never telling anyone she had been in danger.
“If there had been a hospital further out, she would have gone to that,” Cobb said. “She knew she had done wrong.”
Baird countered that Carson had no reason to lie. Ritcherson had acted in self-defense and only pulled out the small weave knife after Barrie lunged at her and hit her on the head, Baird said.
Ritcherson “has a right to be free from violence,” Baird said.