Robert John Sherman and Larry J. Thompson Jr. were found not guilty Wednesday of murdering Roberto (Bobby) Flores during a gun battle in July 2009 in a vacant lot in St. Paul's Payne-Phalen neighborhood.

The two were convicted, however, of possession of a firearm by an ineligible person, a much less serious felony that carries a five- to six-year prison sentence. Ramsey County District Judge J. Thomas Mott will sentence them in about six weeks.

The only people who know what really happened on the warm summer evening that Flores, 38, of St. Paul, was fatally shot weren't -- and aren't -- talking.

So, after listening to 27 witnesses, the jury was left to decide whether Sherman, 31, and Thompson, 30, were murderers the night of July 26, 2009, or whether they acted in self-defense. According to testimony in the weeklong trial, the victim, too, had a gun and was raising his arm to fire at Sherman when he was shot.

The jury got the case Monday afternoon and deliberated parts of three days before returning its verdict about 1:30 p.m. Monday. Defense attorney Christopher Zipko said his client, Thompson, breathed a sigh of relief when the judge read that Sherman was not guilty of second-degree felony murder.

"I knew it," defense attorney David McCormick said his client, Sherman, said.

"You don't show up at someone's house high on meth and with a gun and expect things to go smoothly," McCormick said outside the courtroom.

In her closing argument Monday, prosecutor Susan Hudson said Flores was killed by men he knew and trusted. Two nights before the fatal shooting Flores was robbed and he believed Sherman had set him up, Hudson said. Thompson brandished a firearm during the robbery; a second man held a knife to Flores' neck, she said.

On the night he died, Flores called his brother, Pedro, for a ride. As they neared the 400 block of E. Case Avenue, Flores spotted Sherman at the back of a vacant lot and yelled, "There he is!"

Flores jumped out of his brother's car and met Sherman halfway into the lot with his hands out, palms up, yelling "This is what I get? This is what I get?"

Sherman pulled a gun, cocked it and put it back down, Hudson said. He called for reinforcements and Thompson and Michael L. Sherman, Robert John's cousin, came out the back of a house next door with guns drawn. Thompson fired the first shot, the prosecutor said. Soon bullets were flying from all directions.

Thompson and the Sherman cousins were hit. Flores was shot as he raised his arm to shoot at Sherman.

Michael Sherman pleaded guilty in February to first-degree manslaughter in connection with the case and refused to testify at the trial. He is scheduled to be sentenced next Thursday.

Pat Pheifer • 612-741-4992