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Friday, September 21, 2018

Academics & Research

Student was acquitted in relation to gang murder in Los Angeles


Cameron Terrell comes from Palos Verdes, California, one of the wealthiest cities by median income in the nation. | Fiona Legesse/The Cougar

A teenager who was acquitted of one count of murder charges and two counts of attempted murder in July is attending the University of Houston, effective Fall 2018.  

According to reporting by the Los Angeles Times, 18-year-old Cameron Terrell from the wealthy town of Palos Verdes Estates in Los Angeles County, California was found not guilty by a jury in connection to the murder of 21-year-old Justin Holmes in October 2017. Members of the UH community have called for rescinding Terrell’s admission with no answer from the University, citing federal privacy laws.  

Prosecutors said that the day Holmes was killed Terrell drove two other teenagers in his father’s black Mercedes-Benz to rival gang territory.  

The two teenagers approached Holmes who was walking with two friends, according to CBS. Holmes’ two friends ran away and Holmes told the teenagers he was not part of a gang when asked. One of the teenagers began shooting and Holmes fell to the ground.  

Terrell drove the teenagers away after the shooting in the Mercedes-Benz, prosecutors said, but could not convince the jury Terrell had a role in the murder of Holmes. 

The two teenagers are still awaiting trial. 

In an email obtained by The Cougar — UH  Associate Vice President of Marketing Communication and Media Relations Lisa K. Holdeman — told a former UH student that asked the admissions office to rescind Terrell’s admission that the University cannot comment on individual matters related to students.  

“I can assure you the University does expect all students to hold themselves to the highest standards of conduct and ethical behavior as clearly defined in our policies and we are committed to fostering a safe and secure learning environment free from discrimination or violence,” Holderman said in the email. “I hope you can understand that the University is not at liberty to discuss matters related to individual students or applicants due to federal privacy laws.” 

A statement given by Terrell’s attorney Jovan Blacknell to The Cougar confirmed Terrell’s attendance to the University. Blacknell said the Terrell family has intentionally avoided public discussion over the case for Terrell to return to a normal life.

“At trial, it was undisputed that Cameron did not personally possess or discharge any
firearm,” Blacknell said in the statement.

Blacknell criticized the social media backlash against the Terrell family.

“The evidence proved that Cameron coincidentally ran into two young men, to whom he had minor acquaintance with, and those two young men requested a ride,” Blacknell said in a statement. “At least one of the two men had a weapon concealed on his person, which they did not disclose to Cameron.”

Terrell had applied to universities around the nation, but ultimately decided on UH, Blacknell said in a phone call.

“I don’t think he should be going to any college, much less a great school like the University of Houston,”said Mike Bush, an actor in Los Angeles who has asked President Renu Khator on Twitter to rescind Terrell’s admission. 

Terrell was arrested October 12, 2017, 11 days after Holmes was killed. One week later, Terrell’s parents posted his $5 million bail and he returned to Palos Verdes High School while awaiting trial. But in November, Terrell began taking his classes at an offsite location after a letter from parents to the local school board asked for Terrell to take classes elsewhere, according to the Los Angeles Times 

In Terrell’s trial, prosecutors argued he had joined a gang in South Los Angeles and killing was a way for him to gain status in the gang. 

Prosecutors showed the jury photographs, videos, texts and social media posts where Terrell posed with gang members while wearing gang colors.

Student Government Association President Cameron Barrett said that race did seem to be a determining factor in Terrell’s acquittal verdict by the jury and he does not understand how Terell’s admission was approved by the University. 

“We should probably have a more human process for admissions because I find it hard to believe a person looked at Mr. Terrell’s file, his background, etc. and decided to admit him into the university,” Barrett said.  

The ball is completely in the administration’s court, Barrett said. He’s unable to have discussions with enrollment services and admissions due to FERPA laws. 

“And now the University is in the awkward situation of having accepted someone who shouldn’t have been accepted,” Barrett said.  

Terrell’s defense attorney after the Jury’s verdict was given said at best Terrell expected to graffiti the area with the two other teenagers. Terrell, his attorney said, thought gang life was cool and was trying to study the culture, according to the Los Angeles Times.  

“Cameron didn’t expect to hear gunshots,” Blacknell told the jury according to the Los Angeles Times. “He didn’t expect any of this to happen. He didn’t know the boys had guns.” 

After the trial, Terrell spoke to the media briefly with his attorney by his side. He said he plans to study law.  

“I don’t have to explain myself to anyone,” Terrell said. “God knows what really happened that day, and God knows what was in my head that day.” 

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