The arrest and release of a 14-year-old wrongly accused of a role in a deadly 2010 drive-by shooting has resurfaced as an element of the defense strategy for five men charged in that and other shootings. In court Tuesday, prosecutors attempted to preempt the argument, calling that arrest an “honest mistake.”
The trial of the five — Orlando Carter, 22; his brother, Sanquan Carter, 21; Jeffrey D. Best, 23; Robert Bost, 23; and Lamar Williams, 23 — began Tuesday in D.C. Superior Court. In previous hearings, defense attorneys had signaled the intention to cast doubt on prosecutors’ evidence and the credibility of a key witness who has already pleaded guilty to murder.
The five men face first-degree murder, conspiracy, weapons and other charges in connection with a series of shootings in March 2010 that left five dead. If convicted, they could spend the rest of their lives in prison.
After a March 30 drive-by shooting that killed three, the teen was charged with more than 40 counts, including first-degree murder. A month later, police dropped those charges after another man — Nathaniel Simms, 28 — admitted to a role in the shootings, pleading guilty to five counts of second-degree murder and agreeing to cooperate with authorities. He has been held in protective custody.
During a more than three- hour opening statement Tuesday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Brittin said authorities “made an honest mistake” when they accused the teen of driving a minivan used in the shooting in the 4000 block of South Capitol Street.
Defense attorneys plan to argue that Simms — as well as many of the other approximately 100 witnesses prosecutors may call to the stand — have falsely implicated their clients in hopes of currying favor from the government in their own cases.
“Simms is lying,” Michael O’Keefe, Best’s attorney, said during his opening statement. “There’s a lot of evidence of guilt by association.”
Prosecutors say their evidence also includes DNA, cellphone records and fingerprints.
Prosecutors say the string of shootings began after Sanquan Carter attended a party on March 22. When he found his gold-colored bracelet was missing, authorities say, he accused other party guests of stealing it. Prosecutors say he then called his older brother Orlando, who, along with Simms, Best and Williams, drove to the party. The Carter brothers and Best fired dozens of bullets into the crowd with guns Williams provided, according to prosecutors.
Jordan Howe, 20, was killed in that shooting. Two others were injured.
Howe’s friends shot and injured Orlando Carter the next day in an act of retaliation, prosecutors say.
On March 30, they say, Orlando Carter organized his friends again. He, Best, Bost and Simms allegedly shot and killed Tavon Nelson, 17, while trying to steal a gun they wanted for another shooting.
Minutes later, they opened fire on a crowd on South Capitol Street — it included many who had attended Howe’s funeral earlier that day — with an AK-47-style assault weapon and a .45-caliber semiautomatic pistol, prosecutors say.
Three people who had attended the funeral were killed: Brishell “Bri” Jones, 16, DaVaughn Boyd, 19, and William Jones III, 19. William and Brishell Jones were not related. Six were hurt. None was associated with the shooting of Orlando Carter.
“All of this violence over a piece of costume jewelry,” Brittin said during his statement, holding up the bracelet adorned with fake diamonds. Brittin said a witness will testify that Sanquan Carter escorted a woman wearing the bracelet out of the party but did not realize it.
Sanquan Carter’s attorney, Chris Roberts, said his client was not involved in the March 22 shooting.
“This case is not about a bracelet and should not be about Sanquan Carter,” Roberts said. Carter was arrested two days after the shooting that killed Howe and is not connected to the March 30 drive-by shootings.
“This case will be very much about the victims,” Brittin said. “What happens when rules of law are ignored and individuals take the law into their own hands.”
The trial is expected to last about three months. During four days of jury selection, 12 jurors and five alternates were picked. Judge Ronna Beck removed two jurors from the trial Tuesday, one for personal reasons that were were not disclosed publicly and the other because he knew Howe’s mother.
Beck later said she was “concerned” about losing two jurors so early in the trial.