Defendant, Laguerre, fled the courthouse before the verdict was read

Atlanta–Fulton County District Attorney Paul L. Howard, Jr., announces the MURDER conviction by a Fulton County Superior Court Jury, of VERLAINE LAGUERRE, 26, AND PRENTICE BAKER, JR., 28, in the shooting death of 19-year-old MATTHEW HARDEMAN.

Hardeman’s family waited seven years for this conviction; however, his family will have to wait even longer for Laguerre to begin his sentence. The defendant fled the courthouse today before the guilty verdict was read. A Fulton County Superior Court Judge granted Laguerre and Baker bond in 2012.  The District Attorney’s Office fought to have the bond revoked, but the request was denied. While out on bond in 2015, Laguerre was arrested for Manufacturing Marijuana and Possession of a Firearm During the Commission of a Felony. Laguerre and Baker have both been wearing ankle monitors and were required to follow a curfew. Laguerre’s whereabouts are unknown at this time. The defendant’s picture is attached to this release.

The case against Laguerre and Baker first went to trial in December of 2014 in Fulton County Superior Court. However, the Fulton County Superior Court Judge declared a mistrial because the proceedings extended into the Christmas holiday. Immediately after the mistrial, the District Attorney’s Office pursued a new trial, but in June of 2015 the defense appealed the State’s attempt to retry the case, citing Double Jeopardy. The defense lost that appeal in May of 2017, and the case went to trial in Fulton County Superior Court last week. After years of waiting, the District Attorney’s Office secured a conviction today for Matthew Hardeman’s family.

On October 15, 2011, Hardeman and Laguerre got into a physical fist fight outside Hardeman’s Lakewood Terrace home in Southeast Atlanta. The fight was allegedly the result of dirty looks between the defendant, Laguerre, and the victim. At the end of the fist fight, Laguerre ominously told Hardeman he was coming back to the scene with his “red eye,” referring to a scope-like object for a gun. A short time later, Laguerre returned as a passenger in a vehicle. He yelled out the window to a witness, “where’s your boy?” Almost simultaneously Hardeman appeared. At that point, Laguerre turned to Baker who was also in the car and asked “what do you want to do?” Baker pointed his handgun at Hardeman and opened fire hitting the victim multiple times. Laguerre also shot Hardeman with an assault rifle. There was a third man who also fired shots at Hardeman, but that suspect was never identified. When the barrage of gunfire was over, the defendants fled the scene and Hardeman was left for dead. The victim’s family found his body in the front yard of their home. Hardeman was lying dead in the grass. In total, Laguerre, Baker, and the third unidentified suspect shot Hardeman 50 times.

Matthew Hardeman had his whole life in front of him. The victim made his name as a high school football star at Avondale High School in DeKalb County. After graduation, Hardeman attended Cal State Fullerton on a football scholarship but injured his knee and was forced to return home to Georgia. The victim took classes in Criminal Justice at Georgia State University and was preparing to play on the college’s football team the following year.

In media reports after his death Hardeman’s mother, Gloria, said,

“He wasn’t just but 19, and he hadn’t begun to start his life, and it’s hurting me dearly.”

Laguerre and Baker were both found guilty of MURDER, FELONY MURDER, AGGRAVATED ASSAULT WITH A DEADLY WEAPON, AND POSSESSION OF A FIREARM DURING THE COMMISSION OF A FELONY. Laguerre and Baker were both sentenced to LIFE IN PRISON PLUS 5 YEARS.     

The Honorable Judge Tom Campbell, of the Superior Court of Fulton County, presided over the case. Senior Assistant District Attorney Brett Pinion prosecuted the case. He was assisted by Assistant District Attorney Danielle Douglas and Investigator Bernice Higgins of the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office. Detective E. Bowman from the Atlanta Police Department was the Lead Investigator on the case.