A man has been found guilty of the murder of a father-of-three who was stabbed to death in the food hall of an Essex shopping centre.
Michael Ugwa, 29, was killed at Lakeside Shopping Centre in Thurrock on April 28 last year after complimenting a woman, a trial at Basildon Crown Court was told.
On Monday, 23-year-old Muhammad Khan was found guilty of Mr Ugwa’s murder and of affray, Essex Police said.
The force said jurors cleared a second man, Brandon Lutchmunsing, 20, of murder.
Lutchmunsing was found guilty of manslaughter and of affray, police said.
Karim Khalil KC, prosecuting, said Khan and Lutchmunsing had cornered Mr Ugwa before Khan stabbed him in the chest.
Khan, of Ilford, east London, and Lutchmunsing, of Dagenham, east London, had denied the charges against them.
Jurors were told how an argument broke out after Mr Ugwa made comments towards Lutchmunsing’s girlfriend, Shannon Weston.
Khan is said to have brandished a knife before he and Lutchmunsing stalked Mr Ugwa through the shopping centre food hall.
Mr Khalil described the “brutal attack of two on one” in which the men trapped Mr Ugwa in a “pincer movement”.
Footage played at court showed Mr Ugwa holding up a chair in a bid to defend himself before throwing it at Lutchmunsing.
Khan then stabbed Mr Ugwa in a “single and deadly” blow before fleeing with Lutchmunsing in Weston’s red Audi, Mr Khalil said.
Weston was accused of driving Khan and Lutchmunsing away from the shopping centre, and of helping her then-boyfriend to evade police between April 28 and May 4.
The 21-year-old, of Canewdon, Essex, was found guilty of three counts of assisting an offender, which she had denied, police said.
Opening the case, Mr Khalil had said: “The killing is particularly shocking because it happened just before 4.30 in the afternoon in the public food court.
“It happened in front of a number of people going about their normal business. Witnesses were clearly frightened for their safety.
“A mother with two youngsters in a pushchair can be seen dragging them away as fast as she can.
“The three defendants were sitting by a food outlet when Michael Ugwa and his friend walked in.
“There was a short verbal exchange during which Michael passed some admiring comments towards Shannon Weston.
“The two male defendants decided to take it as some form of challenge.
“Muhammad Khan pulled out a knife.
“Khan did this in a secretive manner but we say from the manner of Lutchmunsing’s behaviour that he knew.
“Mr Ugwa ran for his safety.
“He continued to be chased around the food court.
“Mr Ugwa went through some tables. He grabbed a chair.
“He threw the chair at Lutchmunsing.
“He was the subject of a pincer movement as they went around different parts of the food court effectively trapping him between them.
“Eventually Mr Khan cornered him and stabbed out.
“He aimed the knife at his chest and struck him as he intended to.
“It was a single and deadly blow.”
Lutchmunsing said he was unaware that his friend had pulled out the knife until he stabbed Mr Ugwa, while Khan had claimed he was acting in self-defence.
Senior investigating officer Temporary Detective Chief Inspector Julie Gowen said afterwards: “Although this incident played out over the course of a few minutes, the fatal assault was over in a matter of seconds.
“This case shows the tragic consequences that carrying a knife can have and how quickly an incident can escalate when weapons are involved.”
The defendants are due to be sentenced at Basildon Crown Court on a date to be fixed.