Testimony begins in birthday shooting trial

Fatal fight broke out over $1 admission

December 07, 2007|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,Sun Reporter

A 17-year-old girl took the witness stand yesterday and described how a dispute over $1 preceded the fatal shooting of her father during her Sweet 16 party at their Southwest Baltimore home last year.

The two defendants, Jamal Charles, 17, and Dwayne Drake, 18, have been charged with first-degree murder. The victim, Bryant C. Jones, was shot to death in April while hosting a party marking the 16th birthday of his daughter, Tamirra Jones. Prosecutors say Drake urged Charles to shoot Jones.

During testimony in Baltimore Circuit Court, Jones described how Charles and Drake argued with her father after he ejected them from the party because they were disruptive. She said Charles had grabbed the arm of a girl who refused his request to dance while Drake argued with another girl whose foot he had stepped on.

Jones testified that Charles and Drake demanded that her father return a $1 admission fee as he escorted the pair and four other partygoers up the basement stairs and out of the house.

Less than 10 minutes later, Jones said, she ran upstairs and found her father shot after a frantic relative came to the basement.

"I found my father laying on the living room floor," Jones said.

Yesterday was the first day of testimony in a trial that will resume Monday. One of Jones' cousins, Shoelh Goode, 17, testified that she collected $1 from Drake but allowed Charles to enter for free while she was working the door. She said the two came with about nine other boys.

All of the boys left the basement after Bryant Jones asked Charles and Drake to leave, the girl said during testimony.

The girl said she saw Charles and Drake arguing with her uncle on the porch. She said she then stepped away to take a cell phone call.

She testified to "hearing something that sounded like firecrackers" as she stood in the living room before seeing her uncle stagger back from the door bleeding.

"They were mad because they didn't want to leave," she said. "Jamal and [Dwayne] were saying they're not leaving until they get their dollars back."

Neither Tamirra Jones nor her cousin could provide an eyewitness account that identified the gunman.

Charles and Drake were juveniles at the time of the shooting, but they were charged as adults and are being held without bail at the Baltimore City Detention Center.

During opening statements, Assistant State's Attorney Rita Wisthoff-Ito said Drake urged Charles to shoot Jones. The prosecutor said Drake told Charles to "show him how we handle it in our neighborhood" when they were arguing with Jones on the front porch.

"Jamal Charles fired shots that led to death," Wisthoff-Ito said.

Drake's attorney, Stephen H. Sacks, countered with a "kids throwing snowballs" analogy. The attorney said that if one youth dares another to throw a snowball at a window and it causes damage, the one who throws the snowball is responsible for the action.

Charles' lawyer, Margaret Mead, said her client did not have a gun that night. Mead said family members and those at the party needed to accuse someone of the crime but that their testimony will not be enough to convict Charles.

"Everybody that night wanted somebody to pay for what happened," Mead said.

The trial is expected to last several days.

brent.jones@baltsun.com

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