“A triple tragedy”
Charles Jones, father of Aiyana Jones, killed by police at the age of seven, and Chauncey Owens face first-degree murder charges
Witnesses say Blake’s killer had braids, which Owens never wore, and that ‘some kids’ at scene called him ‘Scooter’
Two “jail-house snitches” to testify
By Diane Bukowski
January 29, 2012
DETROIT – Who killed Je’Rean Blake, 17, two days before police stormed the home of seven-year-old Aiyana Stanley Jones’ grandmother and shot the child to death with a submachine gun on May 16, 2010, looking for the killer, as cameras from A & E’s “First 48” TV series rolled?
During opening statements at the first-degree murder trial of Charles Jones and Chauncey Owens Jan. 28, Wayne County Assistant Prosecutor Mark Hindelang said Owens, who lived in a flat upstairs from Aiyana’s grandmother, killed the teen during a confrontation outside Mike’s Motor City Marketplace at Mack and St. Jean on Detroit’s east side. He said Aiyana’s father, Charles Jones, gave Owens the gun.
He said Blake’s classmates at Southeastern High School, who were with Je’Rean, Owen’s half-brother Sherrod Heard, and two convicted prisoners would testify for the prosecution regarding the guilt of the two men.
Attorneys Leon Weiss, representing Jones, and David Cripps, representing Owens, said the prosecution would fall far short of proving their case “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
They said they expected contradictory statements from the witnesses. They condemned the use of “jail-house snitches” Jay Schlenkerman, convicted of ten felonies and awaiting sentencing on the last three, and Quasim Raquib, serving time for killing and dismembering a transgendered woman, who made a written agreement to lessen charges in that case in exchange for his testimony.
“There are three tragedies here,” Weiss said. “The loss of Je’Rean Blake’s life, the loss of my client’s daughter, and the fact that a couple of years after the homicides of Je’rean Blake and Aiyana Jones, the government charges my client, an innocent man, with murder.”
Cripps added, “Things are not as pure and clear as the prosecution suggests.” He said the eyewitnesses claim the shooter had braided hear, although Owens has never worn braids. He said press coverage showing Jones after his daughter’s death, and the witnesses’ later view of Owens in court, led to their identification of him, and that Owens’ half-brother wrongly thought Owens had identified him as the killer.
Lyvonne Cargill, Blake’s mother, took the stand apparently already in bad shape. She broke down sobbing loudly as she described getting a call from her son to come pick him up at the store, just blocks from their home, rushing to the scene, and finding a crowd of teens putting him in his friend’s car. She said she drove the car to St. John’s Hospital at high speeds, only to learn that Blake was “dead on arrival.”
Cargill exited the courtroom temporarily, crying “My baby, my baby,” as jurors were excused. Prior to her testimony, a medical examiner testified Blake died from one gunshot wound to the chest which hit his lungs and heart.
On cross exam by Cripps, Cargill reluctantly admitted she gave police a written, signed statement that day in which she said “some kids I don’t know who they are were saying Scooter shot my son.” The statement said the shooter was “light-skinned with braids.”
During her testimony, the prosecution displayed a photo of Blake in his Southeastern High School J-ROTC uniform on a screen. They earlier claimed it was the only one they had, despite the fact that the news media has long used a nice portrait head shot of Blake.
(VOD: photos on a Facebook page “G.I.H. Je’Rean Blake,” mounted as a tribute to him and other teens who also had tragically short lives, including one nicknamed “Scoota G,” show another version of Blake. This is raised not to condone this child’s killing, but in sorrow for the many killings of young Detroiters, caught up in a society that offers them little hope of living productive lives as adults.)
Blake’s older sister Aisha Blake sadly said she accompanied her mother to the scene, where she saw a group of “75 to 100” teens in the middle of Mack surrounding her brother as he lay on the ground.
Blake’s girl-friend Johnise Allen, 15 at the time, and friend Jacquavis Richards (a/k/a J-Roc), who is now 21, adamantly identified Owens as the shooter during their testimony, with Allen pointing to him. They testified they had driven with Blake in Richards’ car with other Southeastern students to a McDonald’s and then to the liquor store.
They both said they had frequented the store and that the management regularly locked the doors to prevent too many students from entering at the same time. Allen admitted fights were frequent there, while Richards said the owner was concerned about his inventory. The two said they saw Owens, who they had not seen previously, get out of a truck with a “silver revolver” and shoot at Blake after a verbal confrontation.
Allen said Owens was wearing an orange shirt and blue jeans, while Richards said he wore a white T-shirt. Both said the shooter had braids. Richards said he also had a mustache and goatee.
On cross-exam, Allen said that after Blake got out of the car, she witnessed an argument involving a girl a few feet away from them. She said Blake then told her he had “words” with two men on mopeds, and she told him to get in the car.
“By the time we got done talking,” Allen said, “a truck pulled up that I never saw before.” She said four men get out, and the driver shot at Blake. She said the incident took place in a matter of seconds.
Allen said police had never brought her to a live line-up or shown her photos to identify Owens. She said she had seen him in court “once.”
“You were told that that was one of the defendants, that he was the one who did the shooting?” Cripps asked her. Allen said “Yes.”
On cross by Cripps, Richards said he observed the incident through the passenger side rear view mirror of his car as he sat in the driver’s seat, with another student sitting in the front passenger seat. He said he had a four-door Honda Civic which he had parked in the middle of the lot, facing towards Mack, and that he saw the truck drive into the lot and park behind his car facing the store.
He said he did not see the alleged altercation between Blake and the two men on the mopeds earlier and did not know any of the men in the truck.
“Four people got out [of the truck], two on the passenger side and two on the driver’s side,” he testified. “I saw the driver. He drawed his gun and shot off twice, about 10 feet away from Je’Rean.” He said he did not see where the driver got the gun from.
He testified first that Je’Rean was standing by the passenger door of his car, and later on cross that Je’Rean “took off running” when the truck pulled up. Cripps confronted him about that testimony, telling him that Blake was not shot in the back but in the front of his chest.
Richards also said police had never brought him to an in-person line-up or showed him photos to have him identify Owens.
“I identified him because I saw him shoot my friend,” he said.
The trial is set to continue today.