That was one of several arguments made in a series of pretrial motions submitted in Erie County Court Tuesday on behalf of four of the five defendants accused of involvement in the July 24, 2015, shootings that killed 16-year-olds Shakur Franklin and Elijah Jackson.
Demond D. Mitchell, Jahaun M. Jones and Keshawn C. McLaurin, all 19, and Stephen T. Russell, 20, are accused of shooting from an SUV, killing Franklin and wounding four others during a party near West 29th and Summit streets. A fifth defendant, 21-year-old Darion A. Eady, is accused of fatally shooting Jackson.
Mitchell’s lawyer, John Carlson, wrote in one pretrial motion that Mitchell could have been confused for another individual who was involved in gang violence.
“Through information disclosed in discovery and developed during the ongoing investigation, there is evidence strongly suggesting that the shooting was gang-related and resulted from an earlier assault,” Carlson wrote.
The motion claims another individual, who bears a resemblance to Mitchell, may have been in the SUV witnesses said the shots were fired from.
A victim of the shooting told police the incident was gang retaliation for a previous shooting, the motion states. The motion asks that Judge William R. Cunningham compel the Erie County district attorney’s office to turn over to the defense information relating to the previous shooting, among other evidence.
Four of the defendants in the case entered a number of pretrial motions on Tuesday, which was the deadline for submission. The district attorney’s office will be able to respond to the motions at a later hearing.
• Demond D. Mitchell
Carlson, Mitchell’s lawyer, said Mitchell will offer an alibi defense. The notice states that four witnesses are willing to testify that Mitchell was at a residence on Wallace Street at the time of the homicides.
Carlson has also asked for a change of venue for Mitchell’s trial, which is not scheduled to begin for several months.
“Due to the substantial interest generated in the Erie County (media) and this community, it is respectfully averred that most, if not all, potential jurors have knowledge of the case and have formed an opinion regarding the defendant’s guilt,” the motion states.
• Stephen T. Russell
Russell’s lawyer, Eric Hackwelder, also submitted notice his client will offer an alibi defense. The alibi notice states that three witnesses will testify that Russell was not at the scene of the shootings.
Hackwelder asked in a motion that the charges against Russell be dismissed due to a lack of evidence presented at the defendants’ May 2 preliminary hearing.
“There is no evidence that the defendant shot a gun, held a gun or knew that a gun was anywhere in his presence, on the night in question,” Hackwelder wrote.
Hackwelder raised questions about evidence brought forward by a witness who claimed to have heard one of the defendants say, “We’re about to do a drive-by. There’s some people we don’t like there,” on the night of the party.
Hackwelder also moved for a change of venue for the trial due to media coverage of the case.
• Keshawn C. McLaurin
McLaurin’s lawyer, Gene Placidi, asked that the charges against McLaurin be dismissed for lack of evidence. Placidi wrote the evidence presented at the preliminary hearing did not establish that shots were fired from McLaurin’s vehicle.
The motion also asked that McLaurin’s case be severed from Eady’s because they are not related and because evidence from Eady’s case would be prejudicial, Placidi wrote. All five defendants are being tried as co-defendants.
Placidi also asked for a change of venue due to media coverage.
• Darion A. Eady
Eady’s motion asked that the case against him be dismissed due to a lack of evidence that Eady was the shooter. Eady’s lawyer, Bruce Sandmeyer, wrote in the motion that evidence presented at Eady’s preliminary hearing was insufficient and did not demonstrate that Eady fired a weapon.
Sandmeyer also wrote that a witness identified a different person as being Jackson’s shooter, but that evidence was not presented at the preliminary hearing.
The motion also asks that Eady’s case be severed from those of the other four defendants.
Sandmeyer wrote that the case against Eady, who is accused of shooting Jackson, is unrelated to the case against the other four defendants, who are accused of shooting Franklin.
“The only connection is that the incident that forms the basis of the case occurred in the same general area in Erie,” Sandmeyer wrote.
• Jahaun M. Jones
No motion had been submitted on Jones’ behalf by the time the Erie County Courthouse closed Tuesday. Jones’ lawyer, Shaka Johnson, of Philadelphia, previously moved to have Jones’ charges dismissed for lack of evidence, but that motion was dismissed by Cunningham at a June 3 hearing. Cunningham denied the motion because it was not specific enough.