MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) – A barrage of gunfire that claimed the life of a 14-year-old girl in May appears to have occurred as a result of a misunderstanding, a police investigator testified Wednesday.
Mobile police Detective Glenn Barton testified at a preliminary hearing that the victim’s 15-year-old aunt, who was driving a 2016 Hyundai Elantra on May 31, told investigators that she was headed north on Michael Donald Avenue when she saw a man with a handgun in his waistband. He testified that the girl put the car in reverse and that the man fired. Several others on the street also fired, he said.
“We’re girls! We’re girls!” the driver shouted, according to Barton’s testimony.
The detective testified that the shooting then stopped. The aftermath was that 10 bullets struck the car, one of them hitting 14-year-old Ciara Jackson. Doctors at the University of South Alabama’s University Hospital pronounced her dead just after 11 pm that evening.
Barton testified that based on the statements of witnesses and the defendants, the shooters expected people from an earlier dispute to come after them. He said the investigation points to Archie Terrance Petite, 36, as firing the first shots, which caused the car to back into a car that was parked on the street. Others then fired at the car, as well, he said.
“It caused a chain reaction where they shot into (the car) 10 times,” he said.
In court, Mobile County Assistant District Attorney Madison Davis called it a “senseless ambush.”
After hearing the testimony, Mobile County Circuit Judge Brandy Hambright determined that prosecutors presented sufficient evidence to send capital murder charges against three people to a grand jury – Petite, 18-year-old Lamonyae Forrest and a 16-year-old relative who has not been named because of his age.
Attorneys for the defendants argue that prosecutors cannot demonstrate that their intended clients to kill Jackson an element of a capital offense. Buzz Jordan, who represents Petite, disputed the allegation that his client even fired at the car.
“I think the evidence is gonna show that my client did not fire into the car – period,” he said outside the courtroom. “I don’t think they’re (going to) have any ballistic evidence that my client fired into the car. So, he cannot be charged with capital murder, convicted of capital murder.”
Tom Walsh, who represents Forrest, made a similar argument.
“In most of these cases, capital murder is overcharged and, so there has to be a specific intent to commit murder,” he said. “But I think in this case, you’re gonna find that there is a lot more to it and that Lamonyae, my client, is not the one that is the focus of the case.”
The fatal shooting came during a period of high-profile killings in the city of Mobile. Just one day earlier, an 11-year-old boy died when several people fired into his home at RV Taylor Plaza in an unrelated case.
Fredia Jackson, the grandmother of the 14-year-old victim in the Michael Donald Avenue shooting, said she was pleased the case is proceeding. Dressed in orange to symbolize opposition to gun violence, she fought back tears outside the courtroom. She said Ciara lived with her in Texas and was visiting her other grandmother in Mobile.
“Where is her justice?” she said. “She can’t speak again. She she will never go to prom. She she will never marry. Please, y’all, put these guns down. It’s tearing us apart.”
Barton said bullets came from at least three different weapons. He testified that police recovered a trail of shell casings up the street. He said others on the street have fired but that only the three defendants have been identified so far.
“This is an ongoing investigation,” he said.
Police quickly arrested Forrest and the juvenile, based on descriptions given by witnesses, including the victim’s 15-year-old aunt.
“She said she observed some black males on the driver’s side and the grassy area (on the passenger) and that they were circling her car,” he testified.
Barton testified that a third person in the victim’s car, a friend of the driver, told investigators that her boyfriend identified one of the shooters as Forrest, who lives on that same street. The detective said Forrest ran to the car after the shooting, called 911 and tried to provide aid to the victim. But he testified that Forrest, the 16-year-old defendant and others scattered when police arrived.
During questioning by police, Forrest said that he picked up a rifle that was on a table outside a neighbor’s house and fire twice at the car before a man named “Tony” took the weapon and fired several more shots. But Barton testified that a later search of Forrest’s home turned up a pistol pistol that investigators believe the defendant fired. He said investigators believe Forrest was lying about getting the gun from his neighbor.
Barton testified that it was not until June 27 that homicide investigators got a lead on Petite, who was dating Forrest’s mother.
Barton said the Mobile Police Department’s gun intelligence unit reported that two 9mm casings recovered on Michael Donald Avenue were a possible match to a Glock 19 that police seized during a traffic stop six days earlier. Petite was driving the car that officers stopped on Conti and Jackson streets. Authorities charged him with driving under the influence of alcohol.
Barton testified that Petite told police that he was on Michael Donald Avenue on the night of the shooting between the victim’s car and Springhill Avenue. He told investigators that he was fired but denied shooting at the car. The detective said other witnesses, however, told police that Petite did fire at the car.
After ruling on probable cause, the judge denied bail for all three defendants.
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