Who pulled the trigger?
That was the question raised during opening statements in the murder trial of Messiah Booker, who stands accused of killing a 21-year-old Flanders man during a 2013 home invasion.
While prosecutors have maintained since Mr. Booker’s 2015 arrest that he fired the fatal shot, defense attorney Brendan Ahern argued Tuesday that it was a co-defendant in the case who actually killed Riverhead High School graduate Demitri Hampton.
The Hauppauge-based defense attorney said Corry Wallace, who was also charged with second degree murder and first degree burglary in connection with the Priscilla Avenue incident, was the gunman and he has since accepted a plea deal from prosecutors to receive less jailtime in exchange for testimony against Mr. Booker, 32.
Assistant district attorney Glenn Kurtzrock said while there is no DNA or fingerprint evidence linking Mr. Booker to the shooting since the intruders were wearing gloves and masks, a witness recognized his voice during the incident.
That witness, Naquaisia Amari Love, a cousin of Mr. Hampton, who was 16 years old at the time of the shooting, said in court Tuesday that she “hung out” with Mr. Booker, who she said was pursuing a relationship with her at the time of the shooting. Mr. Ahern objected to the testimony, saying it portrayed his client as a statutory rapist, but Suffolk County Supreme Court Judge John Collins allowed it so long as there was no further questioning about the nature of the relationship.
Mr. Ahern spent much of his opening remarks attempting to discredit the anticipated testimony of several of the prosecution’s witnesses. He said Mr. Booker’s former girlfriend, Oneka Walker, will testify against him in a plea deal that would reduce a felony hindering prosecution charge down to a misdemeanor, allowing her to retain custody of her two young children. He also accused another witness, Eric Walker, who lived in the Priscilla Avenue home with Mr. Hampton’s cousin, Latisha Diego, of selling drugs. And he portrayed Mr. Wallace as a drug-addicted career criminal.
“[He] will do anything to save himself,” Mr. Ahern said, adding that Mr. Wallace has previous convictions for assaults, DWIs, thefts and for both the sale and possession of drugs.
Mr. Booker and Mr. Wallace, 42, of Riverhead were arrested in Nov. 2015 along with Michael Parrish, 28, of Coram, and Danielle Hall, 37, of Calverton. They were each charged with second-degree murder and first-degree robbery, both felonies. The murder charge relates to the death of Mr. Hampton in the act of committing a felony. Mr. Parrish and Ms. Hall are awaiting separate trials.
Mr. Kurtzrock said one key piece of evidence linking the suspects to the shooting were phone records showing calls between two vehicles approaching the Flanders house. He said those phone calls involved the suspects, who arrived in two separate vehicles.
A major part of Tuesday’s questioning was how many armed intruders were inside the house at the time of the shooting. Mr. Kurtzrock said there were three men inside the house, but two witnesses who testified Tuesday said they only saw two.
The alleged burglary occurred at 3 a.m. on Jan. 27, 2013. Witness Frances Acevedo, who was living in a basement apartment in the home with Mr. Hampton at the time of the shooting, broke out in tears as she testified Tuesday.
Ms. Acevedo said she was sleeping in the basement of the home where she lived with Mr. Hampton when the gun-wielding men kicked in the door. She yelled upstairs to Mr. Hampton, who was awake at the time. She said she heard fighting upstairs and then a man wearing a mask and all-black clothing came down and told her to go upstairs and sit on a couch, which she said she did. The man had a “long gun,” she testified Tuesday. The masked man then went into the kitchen, when Ms. Acevedo heard a single gunshot.
She then saw two men running out of the house, both carrying guns.
“Demetri kind of stumbled into Latisha’s room at first, and just sat there, I didn’t know what happened at first,” she said.
“Then he stumbled back onto a wall. There were some folded towels and I tried to help stop the bleeding by pressing the towel against his chest. He told me he couldn’t see. Then there was just one last head nod, and that was it.”
Ms. Love said she was in her bedroom with the door open when two men kicked in the door. She hid in a closet.
The men had ski masks, and were wearing Army pants and Army jackets, with lots of pockets, she said.
Ms. Love described one of the men as having a handgun and the other having a “long gun.”
She could hear Mr. Hampton fighting with one of the men in the kitchen, and she said she then heard two gunshots.
“I heard someone say ‘That wasn’t part of the plan, JayShawn,” she testified. She then saw the two men flee out the front door and into a car.
To date, no one named JayShawn has been arrested in connection with the case, according to Mr. Ahern.
Mr. Walker was in the audience during Mr. Ahern’s opening argument, and, as a witness slated to testify in the case, should not have been, according to Judge Collins. He did not return to the courtroom after recess.