This article was published on GoErie.com by Ed Palattella on December 8, 2017
Marquis P. Knight said he shot at Allen Basham because Basham fired first during a gunfight on Erie’s west side in 2016. “Fight or flight” is how Knight testified about his reaction.
A jury found that Knight’s reaction was justified and that he shot the 19-year-old Basham in self-defense.
Knight, 28, was acquitted of all charges on Friday in his homicide trial — a case in which the Erie County District Attorney’s Office highlighted what it said was violence between gangs on the city’s east and west sides.
The defense countered with Knight’s argument that he was in danger and had no choice but to fire back at Basham with the .40-caliber handgun that Knight was licensed to carry.
“The initial aggressor was Mr. Basham,” Knight’s court-appointed lawyer, Eric Hackwelder, said following the verdict, reached at around 1 p.m. Friday. The jury of seven men and five women deliberated about six hours over two days.
Knight was found not guilty of homicide, aggravated assault, recklessly endangering another person and possession of an instrument of crime.
Erie County Judge John J. Mead after the verdict ordered Knight released from the Erie County Prison, where he had been held without bond, because he was accused of homicide, since Erie police charged him on Sept. 29, 2016. Knight was making arrangements for his release and was not immediately available for comment after the verdict.
His father, Mark Knight, praised the jury’s acceptance of self-defense.
“I always tell my kids: I’d rather be judged by 12 than carried by six,” he said.
As his son said from the witness stand, Mark Knight said Marquis Knight was never in a gang and that he had no choice but to defend himself against Basham, who was shot three times and died from a gunshot wound to the back.
The shooting occurred outside a party in the 1100 block of West 26th Street, between Raspberry and Cranberry streets, shortly after 3 a.m. on April 16, 2016. Evidence showed that Basham fired at least twice at Marquis Knight’s car. Marquis Knight testified he had no idea why Basham was upset with him.
Mark Knight said his family has been close to Basham’s family for years, and that the fatal shooting was a tragedy for all involved.
“No one deserved this,” Knight said.
“It was a sad situation for both families,” said Marquis Knight’s friend John Blanks, who was in the packed courtroom throughout the trial, which started with jury selection on Monday. “But at the end of the day, self-defense — the law proved itself.”
District Attorney Jack Daneri sought a conviction for first-degree murder or third-degree murder or voluntary manslaughter. The shooting, he said, occurred during the course of a larger shootout in which a number of people fired more than 40 shots. Daneri told the jury in his closing argument that the violence was gang-related.
Basham was wearing a T-shirt for Four Nation, an eastside Erie gang. Daneri, citing police evidence, said Knight was affiliated with gangs or groups on the west side, such as the 1800.
Daneri said a blood trail, the pattern of spent shell casings and other evidence showed that Knight fired at Basham while Basham was running toward an alley. Daneri said Knight was not justified in killing someone who was fleeing.
Several of Basham’s supporters left the courthouse without commenting on Friday. Daneri said he was disappointed in the verdict but said he respected how much time the jurors spent on the case.
Daneri said the prosecution “knew we had some rough spots” in the case. He spoke of the high burden required for the prosecution to overcome a contention of self-defense.
“In Pennsylvania, we have to disprove by a reasonable doubt that the defendant was not justified,” he said.
Hackwelder, Knight’s lawyer, said the pattern of shell casings and the blood evidence proved Knight was on the defensive for a legitimate reason. In a case in which no one disputed that the accused shooter and the gunshot victim both opened fire, the evidence “supported our theory better,” Hackwelder said.