Story updated at 4:35 p.m May 10 to clarify statements by Deputy District Attorney Joel Buckingham. The story was also updated at 5:45 p.m. May 10 to include additional information.
BARSTOW • A man convicted Wednesday in the 1995 death of a Barstow toddler could walk free next month after the court decides whether the statute of limitations applies to the 16-year-old crime.
Lafayette Pettress, 58, was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter while his wife was convicted for second degree murder. The two were charged in the beating death of their 3-year-old nephew, Tycoon Graves — a crime blamed on his 9-year-old sister for years.
During trial, Tycoon's siblings testified they saw Duree Pettress stomp Tycoon 30 to 40 times because he snuck a piece of pizza. One witness said she saw Lafayette Pettress watch the ordeal while pretending to sleep on the couch.
The jury had the choice to convict Lafayette Pettress of second degree murder, but instead found him guilty of involuntary manslaughter. However, they were never told the statute of limitations had passed for involuntary manslaughter.
This matter will be discussed at the Pettress' sentencing hearing scheduled for June 21. There Lafayette Pettress will either be sentenced to a maximum of four years in prison or be dismissed.
Duree Pettress faces a maximum sentence of 15 years to life in prison.
All jurors declined to comment after giving their verdict.
Tycoon's oldest sister Evelyn Graves said she was very unhappy with the jury's decision to convict her uncle with a lesser charge.
"Lafayette was just as guilty in my opinion," Graves said. "I still believe that he should have definitely gotten the same amount of time."
She was pleased her aunt was convicted of murder, because there was "some type of justice."
Lafayette Pettress' attorney Daniel Mangan said he was happy with the lesser charge.
"I believe it was a marvelous group of jurors," Mangan said. "You know from watching the trial they had a very difficult job."
Deputy District Attorney Joel Buckingham said the jury's decision was understandable as the conduct of the two defendants was so different — one stomped and the other did nothing to stop the beating.
Still, he was thrilled with Duree Pettress' conviction.
"It's been a long time coming in this case," Buckingham said.
Duree Pettress' attorney Ron Powell was disappointed his client was found guilty.
"It was a real tough case — the victim, a young child and those kinds of facts — very tough," Powell said.