This article was originally published on GoErie.com by Madeleine O’Neill on Jan 23, 2018
A teenage gunshot victim saw a vehicle circle three times before gunfire erupted at a crowded outdoor party he attended in July 2015, the boy testified Monday.
“The third time it came it started shooting,” said the boy, 16-year-old Quaylen McLendon, who was 13 years old at the time of the party. “I was standing there and I got hit.”
Four men are on trial this week on charges that they participated in the shooting, which killed 16-year-old Shakur Franklin and wounded four others, including McLendon, near West 29th and Summit streets.
The defendants are Keshawn C. McLaurin and Jahaun M. Jones, both 20, Demond D. Mitchell, 21, and Stephen T. Russell, 22. Three are arguing that they were not present at the shooting, their lawyers told jurors during opening statements in Erie County Court on Monday.
“This is a classic case of misidentification,” said Russell’s lawyer, Eric Hackwelder.
The lawyers for Jones and Mitchell also told jurors that the evidence would show their clients were not present at the shooting. Mitchell will present an alibi defense, said his lawyer, John Carlson.
“The evidence in this case will not show that Demond Mitchell was in that SUV,” Carlson said. “The evidence will show he sits here on trial and spent the last two years in jail because the police think he was.”
Erie County District Attorney Jack Daneri told jurors that witnesses from before and after the shooting would identify all four defendants as having been in a Ford Explorer that drove through the party on the night of July 24, 2015.
Another witness will describe hearing an occupant of the car say that they planned to “do a drive-by” at the party, because “there’s people we don’t like there,” Daneri said.
“As they make the turn onto Summit, … they open fire into the crowd of kids that are just at a party,” Daneri said during his 25-minute opening statement.
The four defendants face charges including homicide, conspiracy, aggravated assault and reckless endangerment, among others. They are accused of firing, or conspiring to fire, the gunshots that killed Franklin and wounded the other boys during the party.
Two of the other young men who were struck by gunfire that night described a chaotic scene after the party was interrupted by gunshots.
“I heard screaming, yelling, crying,” testified Shaquan Evans, who was 17 when he was struck in the leg by gunfire.
Another gunshot victim, Simeal Wofford, testified that he was “just talking, getting ready to go and then shots fired.” Wofford, who was shot in the thigh, was 16 at the time.
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. Another man, 23-year-old Darion A. Eady, was convicted of third-degree murder in Jackson’s death and is serving 23 years and 10 months to 47 years and eight months in prison.
“Shakur Franklin and Elijah Jackson had no idea that their lives would be extinguished” when they went to the party, Daneri said.
“But the defendants knew what was going to happen,” he told jurors.
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.
Neither witness who is expected to identify the defendants took the stand Monday. Testimony will continue Tuesday morning before Erie County Judge William R. Cunningham, who is presiding.
Two of the prosecution’s witnesses had to be detained on material witness bonds to ensure their appearance at the trial, Daneri told jurors.
“These witnesses are not pristine as they walk in,” he said.
The defense lawyers attacked the credibility of the witnesses during their opening statements.
Carlson, Mitchell’s lawyer, 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.
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.”
Jones is represented by Philadelphia lawyer Jessica Mann.
The defendants remain in the Erie County Prison without bond.