Opening arguments were heard Monday in a murder case charging four DC men with killing three men in five months in the fall and winter of 2011.
The defendants, Anthony Hatton, Jekwan Smith, Johnnie Harris, and Stanley Moghalu, are believed by prosecutors to be linked by their loyalty to a group called “21st and Vietnam.” The group, prosecutor Erin Lyons said, is “not formal” and there “is no weekly meeting” but they “carried guns, packaged drugs and solved problems with violence.”
The men are charged with 21 counts including conspiracy, first-degree murder, obstruction of justice, assault, and weapons charges related to the deaths of Tyrell Fogle, Isaiah Sheffield and Steven Moore.
Lyons said in opening statements that testimony from MPD officers at trial will show that on Aug. 29, 2011 Hatton shot Fogle three times—in the back and the back of the legs—as he tried to flee his own apartment. Fogle was targeted, she alleged, because he was romantically involved with a woman who was dating Delrico Shuford, another member of 21st and Vietnam. Fogle was unarmed when he was shot, said Lyons. A gun, which was later determined to have been used in the murder, was found at Hatton’s feet.
Mary Kennedy, a defense attorney for Anthony Hatton, disputed her client’s connection with the group, telling jurors that evidence would prove Hatton innocent. Hatton is a “kid who grew up in a neighborhood, not a member of any gang,” she said, adding that he has been waiting a long time for his day in court. Hatton was arrested in August 2011.
Kennedy said that Hatton was his uncle’s apartment playing video games the night Fogle was killed. At the end of the evening, while Hatton waited for the bus, he saw a masked man with a gun running toward him, and Hatton ran for cover, she said.
Hatton was apprehended by police near the gun, she said, and spent time in jail unsure of what happened.
Kennedy said that the masked man was Delrico Shuford. Shuford had the reason and desire to murder Fogle, Kennedy said, because Shuford had discovered that Fogle had been on dates with Shuford’s girlfriend. Shuford is charged in the case but is being tried separately. His next court date is a status hearing in August. Kennedy said he is expected to testify in this case
About a month after Fogle’s death, on Sept. 24, Sheffield was riding his bike when he was shot multiple times by Smith said Lyons. He tried to scramble behind a car and return fire, she argued, but by that point, “it was too late.”
Smith’s attorney told jurors Monday that Sheffield was armed and antagonistic when he was shot.
“He had vengeance in his heart and revenge on his mind,” defense attorney Gretchen Franklin said, telling jurors that Sheffield threatened three unrelated people before he reached Smith. At the moment he encountered Smith, he reached for his waistband. Franklin said Sheffield fired three bullets from an extended 9 millimeter clip before Smith returned fire.
Lyons told jurors that Steven Moore, a witness in Sheffield’s death, was suspected of being an informant to police, leading Jewkan Smith, Johnnie Harris and others to plot his death, Lyons argued.
Moore, 36 years old at the time of his death, was “telling [the defendants] how to run these streets. [The defendants] didn’t like that so they ambushed and killed him,” Lyons said. Moore was shot so many times that the medical examiner had trouble telling which wounds were entrance wounds and which ones were exit wounds Lyons told the jury.
John Carney, Johnnie Harris’ attorney, characterized the trial as “a case about law enforcement desperate to make a charge of conspiracy.”
Both the prosecution and the defense agree that parties were shot and killed, he said. But, “that doesn’t mean that Johnnie Harris was out there or involved,” Carney argued. The defense for Johnnie Harris, he explained, will show that the prosecution experienced a failure of proof.
No firearms were recovered at the Harris home that link Johnnie Harris to the deaths in this case said Carney. Nor will fingerprints link Harris to the crimes. Carney told the jury that the witnesses will contradict each other.
The trial continued on June 25.