Prosecutor Blames Gang Violence in Murder of 13-Year-Old

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On Feb. 22, opening statements and witness testimony were delivered in a high-profile homicide trial before DC Superior Court Judge Rainey Brandt. At issue, whether the young victim’s death resulted from a dispute between rival gangs or “crews.”

Koran Jackson, 23, Tyiion Kyree Freeman, 24, and Stephen Nelson, 22, are three of five individuals charged with multiple counts of conspiracy, assault with the intent to kill while armed, first-degree murder while armed, carrying a pistol without a license, and possession of a firearm during a crime of violence in connection to the fatal shooting of 13-year-old Malachi Lukes on March 1, 2020 on the 600 block of S Street, NW.

The shooting also left a second juvenile victim located in the vicinity suffering from an apparent gunshot wound to the right leg. 

Before opening statements, Judge Brandt swore in the 18 jurors and alternates after seven days of selection. The proceeding is expected to last four months and spectators are carefully screened before coming into the courtroom.

The prosecution began, “Do guns kill or do people kill?” and then answered, “both”. 

The prosecution alleges that the co-defendants along with co-conspirators, Reginald Steele, 24, and Aaron Brown, 27, participated in an “eight day period of terror” by possessing, sharing, and using weapons in various combinations for premeditated, dangerous, and violent crimes.

The prosecution said the jury may never get the answer for the root of hostility among crews or gangs, but the motive behind the four shootings is a “rap beef” between neighborhood crews.

Rival crews are known to post rap videos on line boasting of their actions.

The prosecution also stated that the evidence links each defendant to four shootings from Feb. 22, 2020, Feb. 24, 2020, and two on March 1, 2020. 

According to the prosecution, Glock 17 and Glock 26 pistols as well as military and police grade weapons were used in each of the shootings, and were a “stamp” of the group’s identity.

They added that the evidence will link each defendant as a willing participant in the events that lead up to Lukes’ shooting. 

The prosecution described Nelson as the group’s “trusted advisor,” who provided Glock 26 and other firearms. They stated that messages from Steele’s phone provide an “intimate view of how the firearms conspiracy works.”

In addition, they have evidence of Jackson allegedly disposing of firearms, and Freeman’s selling a gun to an associate after Lukes’ shooting.

Freeman’s defense attorney, Andrew Ain, motioned for a mistrial after objecting to statements made in the prosecution’s opening about text message evidence tied to an ongoing motion discussion, as well as an expert witness’ ability to link firearms to an incident.

Prosecution explained their careful wording in the opening statement, citing that they used phrases such as “evidence will show” and “you will hear”, and not “concluding” when discussing evidence and witness testimony.

Judge Brandt noted the objection, however, it was denied due to opening statements not being considered as evidence but argument.

Nelson’s defense attorney, Lisbeth Sapirstein, explained in her opening statement that the prosecution’s evidence is combining two separate cases. 

The core of the Nelson case only provides the jury “text messages and a few pictures derived from social media.”

The second case, according to Sapirstein, is the Lukes’ homicide, which is “separate and apart” from Nelson. 

Sapirstein states that prosecution is “overreaching” in their case against Nelson, because he is not a part of a gang, gang retaliation, or neighborhood crews, and requests the jury find Nelson not guilty on all charges.

Jackson’s defense attorney, Brian McDaniel explained that the DNA evidence allegedly linking Jackson to the stolen Kia Soul allegedly involved in Lukes’ homicide is limited, because “the experts cannot tell you when fingerprints are left…the science does not exist.” Only that the DNA evidence shows it was left “sometime in the history of the Earth.”

Additionally, McDaniel stated that the prosecution doesn’t have evidence of who pulled the trigger in the case.

McDaniel argued the prosecution does not have eyewitness testimony or DNA evidence to support Jackson’s being a part of the conspiracy.

Ain talked about DC crews and how they often identify with a specific neighborhood or building. Ain stated that “you don’t switch, you don’t apply, you don’t leave” one of these groups. 

Ain states that “geography is destiny” in street crews and that Lukes “didn’t choose to grow up there and… didn’t choose to have a target on his back”. 

Ain also distinguished between crew members who may be casually involved like Freeman, and participants who allegedly take pride in their identity, like Steele. 

Ain also attacked the prosecution’s physical and emotional evidence.

He pointed out that despite Freeman never appearing in video surveillance, police believed that GPS information incriminated him because the shooter’s vehicle passed by his mother’s house. 

Ain stated that “Freeman’s fingerprints were not in that Kia because he was never in it,” adding that no DNA evidence indicates Freeman’s presence in any of the shootings. Similarly, Ain stated the same for any cell site data collected. 

Similar to the prosecution, Ain mentioned Steele and claimed that most of the evidence in the case was against him and did not imply Freeman’s involvement. Ain claimed that Steele “wants to be notorious” and “wants to commit crimes and brag about it to others” 

Ain claimed the police “sprinted then stopped” in their investigation of the homicide. 

He concluded, “Nobody deserves to be shot at in the street.” However; “you don’t decide a case by feelings of sympathy for the victim; you decide a case based on evidence.” 

Ain reminded the jury of the presumption of innocence, the burden of proof, and reasonable doubt. “Tyiion Freeman is innocent,” Ain stated as he asked the jury to acquit Freeman of all charges

Following opening statements, the prosecution called Lukes’ mother. 

She explained that Lukes was her youngest child of three, and was named after the last book of the Bible suggesting rebirth or a new life and another chapter. 

Lukes’ mother described him as “a scholar student” who excelled in math and English. She identified him in an image presented by prosecution wearing a black jumpsuit he received for Christmas in 2019.

“That’s my baby boy, Malachi,” Lukes’ mother said. 

According to his mother, she received a phone call from one of his friends following the incident. She immediately left home without shoes to drive to Children’s National hospital but her son was dead when she arrived.

Following her testimony, prosecutors called an officer of the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) who was officer first to arrive on the scene of the homicide. 

The prosecution presented body-worn camera footage, which depicted where the officer found Lukes’ body in an alley unconscious and not breathing. The officer stated that he knew Lukes because he was a kid in the neighborhood.

The officer also testified he saw three juveniles running away when he arrived, corroborated by body-worn camera footage.

In his brief cross examination, Shawn Sukumar, on behalf of Freeman, asked the officer if he had seen the shooter or the shooter’s vehicle. The officer testified that he had not. 

In McDaniel’s cross examination, he focused on the juveniles that had run away. The officer testified that, though he did not know the juveniles’ involvement in the homicide, he heard them cry “they shot my man” as they ran from him. 

McDaniel also asked about a photo of the crime scene depicting what the officer described as the victim’s clothes as well as shell casings of bullets.

McDaniel pointed out that despite the officer’s experience, he could not confidently identify the photo as evidence of bullet shell casings because he didn’t collect them.

The officer acknowledged there were no surveillance cameras at the scene of the homicide. 

The third witness for the prosecution was also an MPD officer who arrived on the scene in time to help others officers stop the three individuals fleeing from the scene. 

The officer characterized the three individuals as “traumatized, frantic, and scared,” as they yelled that their best friend had been shot. The officer testified that one of the individuals was handcuffed during the interaction. 

The officer explained that MPD “were stopping them [the three individuals] because they were running through the scene of the shooting,” assuming they knew who was involved.

Prosecution introduced body-worn camera footage that showed interactions with two of the three individuals who were stopped from fleeing the scene. 

In the body-worn camera footage, both individuals tell the officer that they did not see the shooters or the vehicle of the shooters.

In Ain’s cross examination of the MPD officer, he asked if the officer would describe the extensive efforts and efficiency of the officers on the scene as a “sprint”. The officer agreed. 

McDaniel asked the officer if he had seen any cars driving “sporadically” away from the scene. The officer responded that he had not seen any vehicles or individuals leaving the scene besides those in the body camera footage. 

McDaniel also asked about the third individual. The officer testified that he does not recall the third individual’s providing any information on the shooters. 

In response to a prosecution question, the officer recalled one of the absconding individuals saying Lukes was fired on from a car.  

Trial is set to resume Feb. 26.

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