The Temple Hills man accused of shooting to death two Dunkin' Donuts shop employees and trying to kill another took the witness stand in his own defense yesterday and told a Prince George's County Circuit Court jury that he was scared and hiding in the bathroom of the shop when the killings took place.
Trone Tyrone Ashford, 27, said that he went to the Camp Springs shop only to get doughnuts early on Oct. 15 after a night of drinking and smoking marijuana and that it was co-defendant John Lemon Epps IV who did the shooting.
Ashford's account was in sharp contrast to that of two other people who were with him that night. Both have testified that when Ashford climbed into the getaway car, he bragged about having just shot three people.
Kanu Patel, 28, and Mukesh Patel, 35, were killed, and Ashvin Patel, 44, who was wounded in the abdomen and left arm, was rescued by firefighters who arrived to fight the blaze. None of the victims was related.
In addition, Prince George's County prosecutors have introduced into evidence a police statement that Ashford signed saying he shot two Dunkin' Donuts employees to death and seriously wounded a third during a robbery.
If convicted of the slayings, Ashford could face the death penalty.
"No, I did not shoot anyone," Ashford said during questioning by his defense attorney, Michael S. Blumenthal.
Ashford testified he became afraid when Epps pulled out Ashford's shotgun, announced a robbery, ordered Ashford to watch the front door and herded an employee into a back room. At that point, Ashford testified, he became scared and went into a bathroom in the front of the eatery to hide. He said he was still there when he heard gunshots.
During about 90 minutes on the witness stand, Ashford said that all the witnesses against him are lying. He also testified that he signed the statement saying he shot the employees because homicide investigators wore him down during 13 hours of questioning by denying him anti-inflammatory medication for his severely arthritic back.
"I got tired," Ashford testified. "I gave up."
Three homicide detectives who questioned Ashford testified yesterday that Ashford never asked for his medication or complained of any pain or discomfort.
Under cross-examination by Assistant State's Attorney Tara Harrison, Ashford said the pistol-grip shotgun used in the slayings and recovered by police from his apartment belongs to him. But Ashford maintained his innocence and also denied knowledge of a note prosecutors said was found in his jail cell in April. Prosecutors said the note is in Ashford's handwriting.
The note, introduced into evidence yesterday, contains the names of witnesses, prosecutors, and judges in the two murder cases Ashford is facing. In addition to the Dunkin' Donuts slayings, Ashford is charged with murder in the slaying of a Brandywine man last September during a carjacking.
The names, including those of Assistant State's Attorney John Maloney and Circuit Court Judge E. Allen Shepherd, who are prosecuting and presiding over the current trial, respectively, are contained inside drawings of large crosses. The note contains this handwritten verse: "Reverse this curse and I will hurt thee who try to hurt me."
Correctional officer Mike Lee Higgins testified yesterday that he found the note inside Ashford's cell during a search in April.
Ashford, 27, is charged with two counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder, robbery, and arson in connection with the fatal robbery. Epps is charged with two counts of felony murder and other charges. Prosecutors allege that after Ashford shot the victims, he and Epps poured gasoline in the doughnut shop, lighted a fire and left the victims for dead.
The third co-defendant, Alicia N. Holloway, 17, pleaded guilty June 4 to two counts of felony murder. As part of her plea bargain, Holloway agreed to testify against Ashford. Monday, she testified she was with Epps or was able to see him in the front of the shop when she heard four shots ring out from a back room.
Ashford, Epps and Holloway were arrested within 72 hours of the slayings after Kevin Shiplett, 20, who was riding in the getaway car but did not go into the doughnut shop, told police what he knew.
Shiplett, who is not charged in the crime, testified last week that moments after Ashford came back to the car, he proclaimed he had just shot three people.