A teenager charged with fatally shooting a fellow student at a Southeast Washington high school told a jury yesterday that he went for the gun he was carrying because he believed he was about to be shot or stabbed.
Thomas J. Boykin, 19, said he was "scared for my life" in the moments before the Feb. 2 killing of 17-year-old James Richardson. "I thought he was reaching for a knife or a gun," Boykin testified.
Thomas Boykin said he thought he was going to be shot or stabbed.
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He said he shot himself accidentally as he pulled the gun from his coat pocket in a crowded hallway at Ballou Senior High School. Initially, he said, he was unsure who shot him -- and that made him only more frightened.
"I panicked," he told the jury in D.C. Superior Court. "I turned around and started shooting. I wanted to get out of there."
Richardson, a star football player who was a troubled student, was struck three times and mortally wounded, one of the first in a long list of juveniles who have died violently this year in the District.
Boykin, charged with first-degree murder, surrendered the day after the killing, and his attorneys have said that he fired in self-defense. Such an argument made it all but certain that Boykin would testify at his murder trial, which he did before a packed courtroom. The crowd included his mother and Richardson's mother, seated on opposite sides of the courtroom.
Cross-examining Boykin yesterday afternoon, Assistant U.S. Attorney Catherine Motz challenged the self-defense claim and portrayed the slaying as a deliberate, premeditated murder.
A few days before the killing, a friend of Boykin's had a run-in with Richardson, Motz said. It was another chapter in the long-running rivalry in Southeast Washington between Barry Farm, where Boykin lived, and Condon Terrace, where Richardson lived.
Boykin's friend was talking about going back and "wrecking" Richardson the following week, and Boykin, Motz said, signed on to help.
It was, the prosecutor argued, a plot to kill Richardson. Armed with a gun that Boykin and two of his friends had pooled their money to buy, they stalked the halls of Ballou in search of Richardson, Motz said. When they found him outside the cafeteria, Boykin started a fistfight that ended in deadly gunfire, she said.
Under questioning first by one of his own attorneys, Janet Mitchell, and then by Motz, Boykin insisted that he did not come to school that day intending to kill Richardson.
Boykin was subdued on the witness stand, testifying so softly that the judge, Robert I. Richter, admonished him several times to speak up. At one point, Boykin began tearing up as he recounted the fear he said he felt.
He described a constant and consuming trepidation that had been building for months before the fatal confrontation. All but a couple of the older students from Barry Farm had been suspended from Ballou after a melee in the cafeteria, and the remaining Barry Farm students, including Boykin, felt outnumbered and under threat, he said. He testified that Richardson was suspected on the street of taking part in the violence against Barry Farm.
A third-year freshman, Richardson had a troubled life off the football field. Gang counselors had sought to have him transferred to another school because they believed he was stoking the tensions between students from Condon Terrace and Barry Farm.
Boykin has been jailed since his arrest. The defense rested its case after his testimony, and prosecutors began bringing in witnesses who they said will rebut his account.