A Prince George's County prosecutor told a jury yesterday that before Trone Tyrone Ashford shot three Indian employees of an all-night Dunkin' Donuts restaurant in Camp Springs last October, he hit them with his shotgun and taunted them about their poor command of English.
Leaving the three immigrants for dead in the back of the restaurant, Assistant State's Attorney John Maloney said, Ashford and another man poured gasoline inside the building and ignited it, committing "a crime of unimaginable horror."
"Tyrone was in charge the entire night," Maloney told the jury, describing Ashford, 26, as the driving force behind the attack. "For his troubles, what did he get? Less than a hundred dollars."
The recounting of the events of early Oct. 15, when Kanu Patel, 28, and Mukesh Patel (no relation), 35, were killed, came in opening statements as Ashford went on trial in Prince George's County Circuit Court on two counts of felony murder and one count of attempted murder. If convicted of the killings, Ashford, of the 4000 block of 28th Street in Temple Hills, could be sentenced to death.
Police found at Ashford's home the weapon used in the crime, Maloney said. And though Ashford first told homicide investigators he knew nothing of the attack, he eventually told police that he did the shooting, Maloney said. Maloney told the jury that, before the attack, Ashford and his co-defendants had talked about driving into Washington to buy cocaine.
Kanu Patel, Mukesh Patel and a third employee, Ashvin Patel (none is related), 44, were forced to lie down on the floor in a back room, where they were shot. Ashvin Patel who was shot in the upper left thigh and left forearm, was rescued by firefighters, who went into the doughnut shop to fight the blaze and noticed that he was still alive, Maloney said.
Ashford's attorney, Michael S. Blumenthal, suggested in his opening statement that John Lemon Epps IV, one of Ashford's two co-defendants, was the gunman during the fatal attack at the doughnut shop at Allentown Road and Branch Avenue, near Andrews Air Force Base.
Blumenthal asked jurors to be skeptical about the police investigation, noting that teams of Prince George's police homicide detectives took turns questioning Ashford over 13 hours.
"For crying out loud, do you trust what happened there [during the interrogation]?" Blumenthal asked the jurors.
One of Ashford's co-defendants and a fourth person, who was with Ashford and the other defendants, are expected to testify for the prosecution.
The co-defendant, Alicia N. Holloway, 17, of Fort Washington, pleaded guilty Friday to two counts of felony murder and is awaiting sentencing. Holloway took money from a cash register and got $25 as her share of the crime, Maloney said.
Kevin Shifflet, 20, who was with Ashford, Epps and Holloway when they drove to the doughnut shop but did not go inside, told his mother about the slayings after he got home, Maloney told jurors.
Ashford and Epps also are charged in a slaying that occurred in Brandywine a month before the Dunkin' Donuts killings.
Ashford, Epps, and another defendant, Theodore Briscoe, 21, of Temple Hills, are charged with shooting to death Brently Jayson Youmans, 31, during a carjacking Sept. 13.
The fourth man charged in the fatal carjacking, Donnie Dawayne Comber, 26, was convicted of first-degree murder last month. Comber is scheduled to be sentenced July 8.
Epps is scheduled to go to trial in the Youmans case in September, Ashford in October and Briscoe in November. Prosecutors accuse Epps of being the triggerman in the Youmans case and are seeking the death penalty against him.
Ashvin Patel testified yesterday that he cannot move the fingers of his left hand because of the shotgun wound and is unable to work.
Lynette Rosebari testified that she walked into the doughnut shop shortly before 3 a.m. the morning of the slayings, apparently as Ashford and Epps held the victims at gunpoint in the back. Seeing the counter empty, Rosebari testified, she was about to go back to ask for service when a young black man with an apron around his neck came out to the counter.
The man seemed confused, Rosebari said. "He told me it was his first night," she testified. Under questioning from Maloney, Rosebari testified that she later picked the man she saw behind the counter from a photo array; Maloney said the man was Epps.