After a two-week delay and multiple other complications along the way, a trial centered on an 11-year-old’s fatal shooting wrapped up with parties delivering their closing arguments before the case was handed off to the jury.
Tony McClam is charged with first-degree murder while armed in the 2019 death of Karon Brown. His trial began on Dec. 6. A number of witnesses including a detective had testified but the trial was paused on Dec. 21 after McClam tested positive for COVID-19. Parties all tested negative before entering the courthouse after the new year for the final days of the trial.
DC Superior Court Judge Neal Kravitz said he was informed by his court clerk that McClam was not on the Department of Corrections’ transportation list for the second day in a row, even though he was scheduled for a hearing on both days. This presented issues but they were able to get McClam into the courtroom by 9:30 a.m., the scheduled start time for the hearing. The clerk was only made aware because she gave a U.S. Marshal her cell phone number for them to call if there were any issues.
“I don’t know what is going on and I don’t know why this happened but I am inclined to issue an order today to the director of the Department of Corrections,” Judge Kravitz said, saying he will ask for McClam to be there every single day until further notice, other than on weekends.
Judge Kravitz said that one of the jurors tested positive for COVID-19 on Jan. 4, right after closing arguments began. That juror appeared virtually for the next day’s proceedings. Another juror was denied entry because they noted they had a cough on their COVID questionnaire upon arriving at the courthouse that same day. They were eventually able to enter after Judge Kravitz’ chambers intervened.
“Anyone who is brutally honest on those forms is going to be in trouble,” defense attorney Jason Tulley said.
“On the other hand, we like honest jurors,” Judge Kravitz replied.
When the jury came in, they were given instructions that took more than an hour to explain. Judge Kravitz told the jury in detail how exactly they should examine each charge and detailed what it takes to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that McClam is guilty of each specific offense. He also emphasized looking at each individual witness and assessing their demeanor and behavior when on the stand.
The prosecution and the defense had near opposite stances on what happened the evening of July 18, 2019. The prosecutor described the shooting as premeditated murder while defense attorney Jason Tulley framed it as self-defense.
The prosecution began delivering their arguments on Jan. 4, showing a picture of Brown on the front page of their slideshow. McClam, they allege, wanted to shoot Brown because he did not want another child to get away from his discipline – which shows premeditation.
McClam and a group of people walked over to a BP gas station on the corner of Naylor Road and Alabama Ave, SE, from a nearby residential area because someone asked them to talk to a group of boys involved in an alleged bullying issue. He scolded the boys, who ran off. The prosecutor showed videos and photos from the gas station security camera of McClam during this period of the incident.
Brown was in the area at the same time and can be seen in the same footage.
After the group was scolded, Brown got in a vehicle and left, but the driver circled back to confront McClam about his interactions with the kids, including Brown, which allegedly led to the shooting. The driver first began to drive away but made a U-turn back towards McClam. The prosecutor brought up the driver’s testimony, where he said the reason he turned around was to confront McClam about punching Brown when he was scolding the kids.
The prosecutor said the driver’s actions were valid because he wanted to confront McClam about his actions. He said the defendant shot Brown when he was confronted was to get back at him for misbehaving.
“He did it without justification and he did it intentionally,” the prosecutor said.
Photo evidence of Brown’s blood-stained shirt was shown by the prosecutor, calling attention to how it was originally white until he was shot. By the time it was removed from Brown’s body for evidence collecting, it was drenched in blood. He showed photos of the video surveillance as well, going frame by frame to show how McClam could have clearly seen Brown in the vehicle prior to firing his weapon. This shows, according to the prosecutor, that the shooting was not an accident.
The 911 call from the driver’s girlfriend has played the prosecutor. He said that they were attempting to get help for the 11-year-old victim while driving him to a nearby fire station for medical assistance.
Legal terminologies were also explained by the prosecutor- how transferred intent works in a charge. If McClam was intending on shooting the man driving the vehicle, he is still at fault for Brown’s death because of the transfer. The prosecutor said this places the blame on McClam even if the jurors decide he did not fully intend to shoot the child. He also questioned if the legal precedent for self-defense was even a defense at all- asking if there was reasonable ground for McClam to believe he was about to be shot at. McClam said the driver motioned that he was about to pull a gun when he fired- but the only shots that were fired were by McClam.
“Find him guilty, ladies and gentleman, of all counts,” the prosecutor said, harping on their idea that McClam meant to kill Brown.
Tulley began the first ten minutes of his closing on Jan. 4 but finished the following day. His opening slide just said, “Tony McClam is not guilty”.
He agreed with the prosecution that McClam had gone up to the gas station to scold the group of boys. The defendant works with children for a living, rehabilitating and mentoring those in lower-income communities, so to him this made sense.
But the story differed when talking about why the shots were fired.
Tully said McClam thought he and the children nearby him were about to be the victims of a drive-by shooting. The only reason McClam was still in the area was that, while going back to the residential area, someone stopped him and wanted to go back to confront the children again. The reason he shot at the vehicle was out of self-defense- the driver had previously directly threatened him. His brother had died due to gun violence and McClam was not wanting to follow in his footsteps.
“He never knew Karon was in the car,” Tulley said.
When McClam found out about Brown dying from gunshot wounds, Tulley said, “he cried and became depressed and eventually turned himself in to police”.
Tulley harped on what self-defense is defined as in law. He focused on three principles- the presumption of innocence, burden of proof, and proving beyond a reasonable doubt.
“The details matter,” Tulley said, explaining how McClam is still presumed innocent until when and if the jury finds him guilty.
The prosecutor has the burden of proving Tony did what he’s being charged with, but Tulley argued this is lacking. One witness, in particular, the driver, made the prosecutor’s argument fall apart, Tulley said.
The witness turned back around to go see the group, which Tulley agreed with. While the prosecutor said the driver came upon McClam on accident, Tulley said this was no accident-it was purposeful. While the prosecutor claims this is because he was trying to flee, Tulley said he had turned back around it was because the driver was trying to “take care of it himself” citing him previously threatening McClam.
When driving Brown to receive medical attention the witness took a much longer route than necessary and was careless, Tulley said. He went to a fire station, and not a close one. Tulley showed a map of just how much closer a different fire station was compared to the one he went to. He also took a long way, through a neighborhood with speed bumps. Tulley said the witness was not driving fast because no speeding tickets were recorded with ticketing cameras in the area. His girlfriend, the second passenger, also hung up on the 911 person in order to call his mom, who was an EMS personnel.
McClam testified that seconds before firing, the driver used “street” terminology for pulling out his gun, then made a gesture that he was about to. This is what triggered McClam to fire the gun he was carrying. Tulley said the reason he had the gun was because of the dangerousness of the neighborhood, not because he planned to shoot anyone in particular.
The prosecutor did not cross-examine McClam during his testimony but instead relied entirely on this witness, who was driving the car when Karon was shot. Tulley said this weakened the prosecutor’s case.
Regardless of anything, the witness also was previously forced to quit his position as a cadet in the police force for issues relating to a robbery incident. Tulley claimed this invalidated him, adding to the unreliability of his testimony.
“He’s making things up right from the start,” Tulley said, harping on the idea that the witness lied. The medical examiner did not find any proof in the autopsy of Karon being punched, yet the witness says he saw it happen.
Multiple people who were directly at the scene of both the shooting and the previous confrontation were not called to testify, Tulley said. This little number of witnesses shows a gap in their story and cannot hold the burden of proof.
Tulley also blamed that the Department of Forensic Services (DFS) was to blame for the lack of evidence One of the people currently being investigated at the DFS was heading up their portion of the investigation and according to Tulley, they mishandled evidence at the scene. The jurors were instructed on how to go about DFS material because of the ongoing investigation.
On the self-defense perspective, Tulley explained how exactly McClam’s actions fall under that ruling. McClam testified that he had seen videos of drive-by shootings and felt that the situation he was in was all too similar. His brother had been killed in a shooting and he was determined not to be the same.
“I thought someone was going to kill me like they did my brother,” McClam said.
The two parties also claim the fatal shot, one of four fired, hit Brown on a different street. While the prosecutor claims it occurred on Naylor road, the defense said it was on Alabama Avenue. Tulley used physics and angles to prove his stance during his closing argument, during what he said is his “favorite part” of the defense. Tulley provided a graphic on how each of the four bullets entered the vehicle on Alabama Avenue and showed how they were not directed at Brown but instead fired in self-defense. He said not only does the entrance and exit site of the gunshot wound on Brown prove this, but so do the other bullet holes on the car.
Tullley said McClam was “not able to make those shots” because of the angles of the shots and the physics behind it.
Tulley invited the jury to play with the map and even went into explaining how to use it. He said there is no possible way Brown was ducking for cover out of fear, like the prosecutor said. The only way the bullets could have hit him at the angles he did was if Brown was sitting up.
The prosecutor had a chance to rebut before the case went into the hands of the jurors. They focused their attention on what they believed to be evidence the defense wrongly presented.
He reiterated that they believed the fatal shot was on Naylor Road- before the driver turned the corner to Alabama Avenue. He praised Tulley for explaining how to use the map and that if they did, they would clearly see something different than the defense.
“For the demonstration of angle, he put that car in the right lane, ” the prosecutor said about the car Brown was in on the map, explaining that the car was in a different place.
He also rebutted any claim that the witness was being malicious when driving.
“Would it be completely outrageous for him to pick up Karon and go back to ask, ya know, what did you do to this little boy,” the prosecutor said. “He wanted to talk to this guy about why he attacked this little boy.”
The prosecution explained how they did not go into self-defense because it was a “preposterous” idea to even bring up. They focused on McClam’s intent, saying it was to hurt Brown. He also commented on the issues with the witness, saying they were “not a perfect person” but did not know the true reason they had to resign until years later.
Once closing arguments were over, Judge Kravitz explained now the jurors would deliberate while social distancing in the courthouse. A large room with socially distanced tables was made available. Jurors left soon after and will deliberate until a decision is made.