This article was originally published on GoErie.com by Madeleine O’Neill on Jan 22, 2018
A party in Erie on a warm summer night, shattered by gunfire.
Erie County District Attorney Jack Daneri laid out this scene for jurors Monday as he began to map the evidence he plans to present against four men on trial in a fatal drive-by shooting at the party.
The victims in the case were “guilty of nothing else but going to a party,” Daneri said during his 25-minute opening statement.
He told jurors that the four defendants — Keshawn C. McLaurin and Jahaun M. Jones, both 20, Demond D. Mitchell, 21, and Stephen T. Russell, 22 — participated in a drive-by shooting at the July 24, 2015, party that killed 16-year-old Shakur Franklin and wounded four others.
Also killed that night was 16-year-old Elijah Jackson, who died in a shooting that coincided with the shooting of Franklin. The four defendants are not charged in Jackson’s death.
“Shakur Franklin and Elijah Jackson had no idea that their lives would be extinguished” when they went to the outdoor party near West 29th and Summit streets, Daneri said.
“But the defendants knew what was going to happen,” he told jurors.
He said witnesses from before and after the shooting would identify all four defendants as having been in a Ford Explorer that drove through the party.
“As they make the turn onto Summit, … they open fire into the crowd of kids that are just at a party,” Daneri said.
He will present evidence of two .38-caliber revolvers found in or near the Ford Explorer after it crashed following the shooting, he told jurors. The bullet recovered from Franklin’s head, he said, was a .38 caliber.
“The evidence will establish this was a drive-by,” Daneri said.
Three of the defendants will argue that they were not present at the scene, according to their lawyers’ opening statements.
“The evidence in this case will not show that Demond Mitchell was in that SUV,” said John Carlson, who is representing Mitchell. “The evidence will show he sits here on trial and spent the last two years in jail because the police think he was.”
Carlson said a witness who told police she saw Mitchell leaving the Ford Explorer after it crashed was either mistaken or had reason to lie. The evidence will show that Mitchell was at his girlfriend’s house at the time of the shooting, Carlson said.
Russell’s lawyer, Eric Hackwelder, and Philadelphia lawyer Jessica Mann, who is representing Jones, both also argued that their clients were not at the shooting scene.
“This is a classic case of misidentification,” Hackwelder said.
The lawyer for defendant McLaurin, Gene Placidi, acknowledged that McLaurin was at the scene and driving his vehicle. But, Placidi said, “the evidence will show Keshawn McLaurin had nothing to do with the shooting and killing of Shakur Franklin.”
The defense lawyers also attacked the credibility of prosecution witnesses, two of whom had to be detained on material witness bonds to ensure their appearance at the trial.
Testimony in the case will begin Monday afternoon. Erie County Judge William R. Cunningham is presiding.
The defendants remain in the Erie County Prison without bond.