After a trial that spanned more than two weeks, the six men had the chance to celebrate their freedom more than a year after police made their first arrests in this case. Shyheim Alston, Shyheim Freeman, Shyheim Reed, Narkevious Reid, Isaiah Whatley and Antonio Williams Jr. each hugged their attorneys after Judge Brooks Goldsmith granted their motions for directed verdict and found the men not guilty.

Each of the men were charged with one count each of attempted murder, possession of a weapon during the commission of a crime and high and aggravated breach of peace.

“Just like Martin Luther King said, ‘Free at last, free at last, thank God almighty we’re free at last,’” Reid said, to laughs from his former co-defendants.

Each man praised their attorneys, and Williams said he was deeply grateful for Goldsmith’s verdict.

“All of the attorneys in this case have done an admirable job in representing their clients, as have the state in handling the case,” Goldsmith said after considering motions from each defendant for a directed verdict.

Goldsmith said if Isaiah Brown had shown up to testify in court and implicate any of the defendants, he might not have been in a position to grant a directed verdict. Brown is the man prosecutors and police argued was the target of the shooting, though some defense attorneys posited he instead could have been the aggressor. Brown failed to show up in court to testify under order from a subpoena, and Goldsmith issued a bench warrant for Brown’s arrest to bring him to court, but police had not found him.

The state’s case, Goldsmith said, relied on “mere speculation” that any of the defendants had or fired a gun, or that there was any plan or intent to shoot Brown. Eighth Circuit Solicitor David Stumbo disagreed with Goldsmith’s verdict and said he was disappointed the jury wasn’t given the chance to make their own decision.

“Every case I’ve ever tried in my career, that’s how it’s ended,” Stumbo said. “It’s ended with a jury making a decision about what the facts are in the case. I’ve tried lots of cases in my career, this is the first one that hasn’t gone to a jury.”

He said he thought the law and facts of the case were sufficient to have a jury determine the verdict. He heard from Goldsmith two bases for the directed verdict — that Brown didn’t show up to testify, and that there wasn’t video of the exact moment of the shooting. Neither police nor prosecutors could have done anything else to make Brown cooperate, Stumbo said.

“And the physical evidence makes it pretty clear where the gun was shot in the mall. ... There’s a dead spot there in the mall where the mall doesn’t have operating cameras,” he said.

He said his office isn’t able to appeal Goldsmith’s decision. Still, the attorneys and clients on the other side of the courtroom had reason to celebrate.

“The next time I’m in court, it’ll be as an attorney,” said 19-year-old Isaiah Whatley.

“There’s not that many clients I’ve had that could successfully fulfill that dream,” said Whatley’s attorney, Stephen Geoly.

Whatley was arrested the second day of his senior year at Greenwood High School, and Geoly said this case took from him the opportunity to enjoy his final year and pursue a number of academic and athletic opportunities.

“I’m just happy they’re all going home for Christmas,” said Elizabeth Able, who, along with Tristan Shaffer, represented Williams.

Tears were shed and hugs shared in the courtroom, but the excitement of victory overwhelmed some of the men once they stepped outside. Whatley and others took to social media, announcing their acquittal while taking selfies in front of the courthouse. After more than a year with their futures in the balance, some just tightly hugged their relatives and loved ones, fighting back tears.

“My fear was he would end up sitting and waiting up until he got an acquittal, and he did,” said Michael Gambrell, attorney for Reid. “I’m just happy for him and his daughter, but he lost a year of his life.”

Alston was in a rush to leave the courtroom, as he said he just wanted to see his baby daughter. Williams was excited to leave court for a different reason — he wanted to go to lunch.

Contact staff writer Damian Dominguez at 864-634-7548 or follow on Twitter @IJDDOMINGUEZ.