A Criminal Court jury convicted a 26-year-old man on Tuesday of killing two people, including a Memphis police officer, and wounding a Cordova man in unprovoked attacks in 2016 in three separate areas.
Justin Welch, a.k.a Justine Welch, was convicted on one count of first-degree murder, one count of vehicular homicide, two counts of attempted first-degree murder, two counts of employment of a firearm in the commission of a dangerous felony, and one count of intentionally evading arrest in an automobile when risk of death or serious injury was high.
In a sentencing hearing after the verdict, the jury sentenced Welch to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the murder conviction. He will be sentenced on the other convictions on Sept. 23.
Sgt. Verdell Smith was struck and killed by a stolen car driven by Welch shortly after the defendant shot 39-year-old Joshua Walton on North Main where he was with his wife and family.
Walton died of his injuries 13 months later.
The incidents occurred on the evening of June 4, 2016, when Welch arrived in Memphis in a car he had stolen in Arkansas.
He pulled into a service station on Knight Arnold where he stole another car that had the keys in the ignition, and headed Downtown.
Witnesses said Welch walked up to a group of people eating outdoors at Westy’s Restaurant at 346 N. Main Street and without warning began shooting at close range.
He shot Walton in the neck and shot a second customer, a 57-year-old Cordova man, three times in the face.
Welch then ran toward Bass Pro where he got into the second stolen car, drove up to a 21-year-old employee and began firing without warning.
A man from Olive Branch, Miss. was struck in the left forearm as he raised it to cover his face. Another bullet struck his cellphone in his pocket.
With police in pursuit, Welch drove at a high rate of speed south – the wrong way – on Third Street. As his car approached the Beale Street area police quickly began clearing the street.
Sgt. Smith was herding pedestrians to safety when Welch’s speeding vehicle struck him, causing fatal injuries.
Welch’s vehicle crashed moments later, totaling the car but sustaining no injuries. He ran from the scene, but was quickly captured by officers.
At one point before 2016, Welch was emergency committed to a mental facility, but those records are not releasable to the public.