3 men not guilty in ’08 drive-by shootings in D.C.’s Trinidad neighborhood

Three of the five men charged with murder and other crimes related to a series of July 2008 drive-by shootings in the District’s Trinidad neighborhood were acquitted by a D.C. Superior Court jury Tuesday.

The shootings, which left one teenager dead and six other people wounded, triggered a rash of violence that led police to set up controversial driver checkpoints in the Northeast Washington neighborhood.

The five men had been charged with first-degree murder, conspiracy and assault with a deadly weapon, along with other offenses, in the shootings. After a four-week trial and four days of deliberations, the eight-woman, three-man jury found twin brothers Joshua and Christian Benton, 21, of the District’s Kenilworth neighborhood and William McCorkle, 25, of Trinidad not guilty.

Marcus Brown, 23, of Trinidad was convicted of lesser charges, including assault with intent to kill, conspiracy and possession of a firearm during a crime of violence.

The jury said it was deadlocked and was ordered to continue deliberating on the charges facing Antonio McAllister, 17, of Kenilworth.

The shootings were a result of a fight between residents of Trinidad and Kenilworth at a Waldorf go-go club, authorities said. They said McAllister was punched during the altercation. The fight continued as they drove back to their neighborhoods.

Alonzo Robinson, 13, who had come with his mother from Alabama to visit his ailing great-grandmother, was killed in the July 19 shootings. Alonzo was with his mother and cousin when they were shot outside his grandfather’s apartment complex at Queen and Holbrook streets NE. The teenager was shot in the abdomen and bled to death.

Six others were shot that evening in both neighborhoods in connection with the nightclub fight, prosecutors said.

Family members and friends of the victims and defendants sat in the courtroom Tuesday with 11 marshals and security guards posted around the room. As the jury foreman read the verdicts for the first acquitted defendant, a victim’s family member burst into tears, leapt from his seat and ran out. His cries in the hallway were heard inside the courtroom.

Defendant Christian Benton, dressed in a bright red shirt and tie, wiped away tears as the foreman announced the not-guilty verdicts. His brother, Joshua, seated beside him in a yellow shirt, smiled and bowed his head. Judge Thomas J. Motley ordered the brothers and McCorkle released from the D.C. jail.

Prosecutors Jennifer Kerkhoff and Erin Lyons based much of their cases on neighborhood police videos and alleged eyewitness accounts. After the fight in Waldorf, prosecutors said, the Benton brothers and McAllister drove into Trinidad with guns and began shooting at people, including Alonzo and his family.

When word spread of the shootings in Trinidad, prosecutors said, McCorkle and others drove into Kenilworth and began shooting in retaliation.

Prosecutors based their case against McCorkle in part on the testimony of a witness, Jeffrey Tuckson. But McCorkle’s attorneys, Arthur Ago and Katerina Semyonova of the D.C. Public Defender Service, challenged his testimony by playing a recording in which Tuckson sought a deal from D.C. police in connection with another case in exchange for his testimony.

Defense attorneys also attacked the testimony of another key government witness, Kenneth Williams. Williams, 20, said he was in the car with the Benton brothers and other men during the shootings. He has pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and had agreed to testify before he is scheduled for sentencing.

Heather Pinckney and Paul Riley, attorneys for the Benton brothers, said their clients were not in the car and discounted Williams’s credibility and the consistency of his testimony.

On the stand, Williams admitted to carjacking since he was 11, “looking fancy” while riding in stolen vehicles and using PCP, marijuana and ecstasy daily since he was 13. He also admitted to two killings while a teen and to “hearing voices” when he gets angry. He said he has been on various medications since 2008.

After the verdict was read, Pinckney said she was pleased the jury was not “misled” by Williams.

Keith Alexander covers crime, specifically D.C. Superior Court cases for The Washington Post. He has covered dozens of crime stories from Banita Jacks, the Washington woman charged with killing her four daughters, to the murder trial of slain federal intern Chandra Levy.
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