Defendant in mass D.C. shootings says start witness is angry at him

One of the men accused of pulling the trigger in a series of shootings that killed five people in March 2010 denied on the witness stand Wednesday that he had any role in them.

Jeffrey Best is charged with murder in three shootings over eight days. On Wednesday, he told a D.C. Superior Court jury that he was being falsely implicated by one of his best friends — the government’s star witness.

“I didn’t do this,” said Best, 23. “All of this came from one person — Nathaniel Simms.”

Simms, 28, pleaded guilty to five counts of second-degree murder and agreed to cooperate with authorities in the prosecution of Best and four other men. Under questioning from his attorney Michael O’Keefe, Best said that Simms was angry at him for stealing a bag of marijuana and some money from him after Simms was arrested.

Best’s testimony came in the sixth week of proceedings in the five-defendant trial: All five — Best; Sanquan Carter, 21; his brother Orlando Carter, 22; Robert Bost, 23; and Lamar Williams, 23 — are charged with first-degree murder and other offenses and could face life sentences if convicted.

Also Wednesday, Judge Ronna Beck indicated that the jury may be told that they can consider whether Sanquan and Orlando Carter, Best and Bost were protecting themselves during two of the shootings, potentially leading to convictions on lesser charges.

The violence began March 22, 2010, in a shooting on Alabama Avenue SE that resulted in the death of Jordan Howe, 20. A man injured in that shooting had previously testified that he claimed to have a gun during the incident, although he later admitted that he did not.

Defense attorneys have also argued that Tavon Nelson, 17, pointed a gun at Best and Bost when they tried to take it from him outside his home in the area of Galveston Street SW on March 30. The two defendants are charged with firing first; Nelson died from his injuries.

In the final shooting, which happened March 30 in the 4000 block of South Capitol Street, Orlando Carter, Best and Bost are charged with opening fire on a group of people who had attended Howe’s funeral. Three people were killed. Simms admitted to firing an assault rifle in that shooting, which took place minutes after Nelson was shot.

Defendants rarely take the stand in murder trials, and defense attorneys said that Best would likely be the only defendant to testify. Dressed in a cream sweater, red bow tie and thick, black-framed glasses, he contradicted Simms’s version of events, which had him as a gunman at each of the shootings.

Best told jurors that he was at his grandparents’ home, where he lived, at the time of the March 22 shooting.

He was arguing with his girlfriend on the telephone for most of the night, he said, and did not hear about the shooting until the next day. “I never left out of the house,” he testified.

Prosecutors say they found Best’s DNA on a jacket Simms told the jury Best wore at the time of the Alabama Avenue shooting. Best said that the jacket belonged to Simms and that he had borrowed it weeks earlier.

The other four defendants sat and watched as Best testified. Best did not mention their roles in the shootings.

The six men were known to hang out together in their Southeast Washington neighborhood. Best said he thought of Simms as “a big brother.” But Best said Simms was lying about his involvement in the shootings: He said Simms was angry with him for taking a bag of drugs from his girlfriend’s apartment after his arrest on March 30.

“I was going to sell it and send him half the money and then look out for his kids,” Best testified.

Best said he was at the home of his former girlfriend during the March 30 shooting. The woman said the same during her testimony Wednesday.

O’Keefe called several D.C. jail inmates, who testified that they overheard Simms yelling about getting revenge on Best for stealing his drugs.

Prosecutors are expected to continue questioning Best on Thursday.

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 intern Chandra Levy.
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