Terrico Bethel convicted of murdering Tulsa businessman Neal Sweeney
BY BILL BRAUN World Staff Writer
Saturday, August 25, 2012
8/25/12 at 7:05 AM
Nearly four years after the killing, a Tulsa County jury imposed a no-parole life prison term upon convicting a man Friday of murdering Tulsa businessman Neal Sweeney.
Terrico Bethel fatally shot a man he didn't know for $5,000, prosecutors said.
"He never met Neal Sweeney," District Attorney Tim Harris told jurors during a closing argument. Bethel will "sell his soul for five grand."
The jury, which deliberated less than two hours, also found Bethel guilty of conspiracy to commit murder and meted out a 10-year term for that conviction.
The jury imposed fines totaling $15,000. Life without the possibility of parole was the maximum sentence possible for the first-degree murder conviction incurred by Bethel, 26, of Tulsa. The death penalty was not an option in this case.
Sweeney, 63, was shot once in the head on Sept. 4, 2008, at his business, Retail Fuels Marketing, 3158 S. 108th East Ave. He died the next day.
Mohammed Aziz, who operated two convenience stores in Tulsa and one in Collinsville, testified Thursday that he paid to have Sweeney killed.
Retail Fuels Marketing had stopped regular delivery of fuel to Aziz's stores because Aziz was not making required payments, and the lack of gasoline created major financial problems for him, according to prosecutors.
Retail Fuels Marketing sued Aziz for the money owed and obtained a $238,638 default judgment against him in May 2008.
Aziz, 59, "feels like his life is ruined by Neal Sweeney," and he began to "burn inside with hatred'' for Sweeney, Harris told jurors.
Aziz asked a friend and regular store customer, Allen Shields, if he knew somebody who would kill Sweeney, according to prior testimony by Shields.
Shields said his brother, Fred Shields, indicated that the hit would cost $10,000. Prosecutors allege that Fred Shields recruited Bethel as the triggerman.
Aziz indicated that he paid a total of $11,100 in connection with the murder plot, including installment payments to Allen Shields.
Allen Shields and Aziz were offered plea deals by the District Attorney's Office in exchange for their testimony as prosecution witnesses.
Defense attorney Sharon Holmes, representing Bethel, said prosecutors made "deals with devils." She said Aziz "got a sweet deal" and a sentence that is "not justice."
Aziz's testimony this week showed that he's still "infuriated at Mr. Sweeney," Holmes told jurors.
Holmes also said there was no gun and no physical evidence to implicate Bethel.
In Aziz's plea agreement, the District Attorney's Office agreed to dismiss counts of murder and conspiracy to commit murder, and Aziz pleaded guilty in January to soliciting murder.
He has not yet been sentenced, and the plea agreement calls for a recommendation of a 35-year prison term, with the possibility of having that reduced to 25 years if he testifies truthfully.
A murder-solicitation conviction does not require that the person serve at least 85 percent of the sentence before becoming eligible for parole.
Harris said he "hated" having to offer that plea agreement to Aziz.
Allen Shields pleaded guilty to a conspiracy count and testified for the prosecution at a 2010 preliminary hearing after being offered a plea deal calling for 10 years of probation and no prison time. He died in 2011 of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Harris said it "made my skin crawl" to offer that deal to Allen Shields, but he said the five-man conspiracy "began to crumble'' after Allen Shields agreed to assist the state of Oklahoma.
"When you cast a play, you don't get angels for actors," Harris said.
Dolan Prejean, a jail informant, testified for the prosecution this week and said Bethel told him that he shot Sweeney and that it was a "contract hit."
Bethel said he shot Sweeney with a .38-caliber revolver and that he was paid $5,000, according to Prejean.
First Assistant District Attorney Doug Drummond previously has said the "investigation in this case was long because it was a complex murder-for-hire case involving five people. There have been many delays and challenging legal issues to sort out."
Drummond said phone records show that "a lot of communication was going on between these five individuals" during the days before and the morning of the murder.
"At any point, Bethel could have said, "I'm not going to do this," Drummond said.
The other two defendants in the case, Alonzo "Jack" Johnson and Fred Shields, await separate trials on murder and conspiracy counts.
District Judge Tom Gillert scheduled Bethel's formal sentencing for Tuesday.
Sweeney case timeline
May 21, 2008: Retail Fuels Marketing obtains a $238,638 default judgment against Mohammed Aziz for not making payments on his convenience stores' gasoline account.
Later in 2008: Aziz asks Allen Shields to find someone who will kill Retail Fuels Marketing owner Neal Sweeney, according to testimony from Shields. Allen Shields enlists his brother, Fred Shields, to help, and Fred Shields recruits Terrico Bethel to do the killing.
Sept. 4, 2008: Bethel and Alonzo "Jack" Johnson come to Allen Shields' home, and Johnson asks whether Aziz has the money "to get the murder done," Allen Shields testified.
Sweeney, 63, is shot in the head about 9:30 a.m. Sept. 4, 2008, at Retail Fuels Marketing.
Sept. 5, 2008: Sweeney dies.
June 4, 2009: Bethel is charged with first-degree murder.
May 12, 2010: Bethel, Aziz and Johnson are charged with conspiracy to commit murder.
May 14, 2010: First-degree murder and soliciting murder charges added against Aziz.
June 1, 2010: Allen Shields is charged with conspiracy to commit murder, and Fred Shields is charged with first-degree murder. A conspiracy charge against Fred Shields is added later.
Oct. 29, 2010: Allen Shields pleads guilty to conspiracy. He posts bond and is released from jail.
Nov. 1, 2010: Murder charge against Johnson is added.
April 4, 2011: Allen Shields kills himself.
Jan. 30, 2012: Aziz pleads guilty to soliciting Sweeney's murder.
Friday: A jury convicts Bethel of first-degree murder.
Original Print Headline: Man convicted in Sweeney death
Bill Braun 918-581-8455
District Attorney Tim Harris speak to the media after a jury came to a guilty verdict in the first-degree murder trial of the accused, Terrico Bethel, 26, in the killing of Tulsa businessman Neal Sweeney, taken at the county courthouse in Tulsa. JAMES GIBBARD/Tulsa World
Tulsa County District Attorney Tim Harris speaks to reporters Friday after a jury convicted a defendant of being the hitman in the first-degree murder of businessman Neal Sweeney. JAMES GIBBARD/Tulsa World
Defense attorneys Sharon Holmes and Fred DeMier speak to the media Friday after a jury convicted their client Terrico Bethel of first-degree murder. JAMES GIBBARD/Tulsa World