A spree of violent attacks in Southeast that left five dead and nine others wounded was all triggered when a piece of "costume jewelry" went missing, prosecutors said Tuesday during opening statements in the trial of the men charged in the shootings.
The trial for the five male defendants — charged in three separate March 2010 shootings that culminated in the so-called "South Capitol Street massacre" — began in D.C. Superior Court with the prosecutors outlining the series of incidents and their deadly outcomes.
"This case will demonstrate what happens when individuals take the law into their own hands," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Brittin "These crimes fit together like a puzzle, like a well-made piece of furniture."
Holding up a gold-colored bracelet encrusted in glittering fake diamonds, Mr. Brittin told jurors the "cheap piece of costume jewelry" is at the center of the retaliatory gunbattle.
The bracelet went missing March 22 when its owner, Sanquan Carter, took it off when he had sex with a young woman at a party. The woman's friend took the bracelet, Mr. Brittin said, but Mr. Carter blamed a friend and unleashed a hail of bullets on him and a crowd of others after he was unable to find it.
On trial with Mr. Carter, 21, is his brother, 22-year-old Orlando Carter, whom prosecutors said came to his aide with an AK-47 assault rifle when he reported he was "robbed."
Prosecutors said their friends — Jeffrey D. Best, Robert Bost and Lamar Williams, all 23 years old — also played various roles in either the March 22 shooting or the subsequent South Capitol Street shooting on March 30.
"They were going over there and, obviously, they meant business," Mr. Brittin said, describing how Orlando Carter, Mr. Best and Mr. Williams changed out of flashy clothes and picked up three guns, including the AK-47, on their way to the apartment party.
When they arrived at the apartment, Sanquan Carter grabbed a handgun and began patting people down at gunpoint looking for his bracelet, according to court records.
"He never found his bracelet, and he became furious," Mr. Brittin said. "He stepped back and opened fire and pandemonium broke loose."
Jordan Howe, 20, was killed and two others injured.
Sanquan Carter was arrested the next morning, but friends of Jordan Howe went looking for revenge. They shot Orlando Carter on a busy street corner a few hours after his brother was arrested. The men responsible for the shooting have already been prosecuted and are among the dozens expected to testify during this trial, Mr. Brittin said.
Orlando Carter's wounds were not fatal, and once he was released from the hospital be began plotting revenge, Mr. Brittin said.
"His plan was to show up at Jordan Howe's funeral and to shoot and kill as many people as possible," said Mr. Brittin, pointing out Orlando Carter, who wore a white shirt and green tie to court.
Orlando Carter didn't make it to the funeral the morning of March 30, but instead, prosecutors said, waited until that night to perform a drive-by shooting in which he, Mr. Bost, Mr. Best and Mr. Williams opened fire on funeral attendees as they gathered outside on South Capitol Street.
On their way, Mr. Best and Mr. Bost are said to have killed 17-year-old Tavon Nelson as they tried to rob him of a gun to get additional firepower for the ambush.
The men face up to life in prison if convicted of even some of the more than 50 charges against them.
Showing photos of the bloody scene on a court projector, jurors got their first look at the carnage that took place out front of 4022 South Capitol Street. Among the images were puddles of blood on the sidewalk and William Jones, 19, dead in the grass, wearing a T-shirt that paid homage to his dead friend, Jordan Howe.
Friends and family members of the three killed that night — Brishell Jones, 16; Davaughn Boyd, 18; and William Jones — began to sob in the courtroom as the photos were shown. The two Joneses were not related.
The trial is expected to last up to three months as each of the defendants' attorneys present their own defenses.
Less than a full day into the trial, two of the 12 jurors and five alternates have already been excused from jury service. One of the jurors realized after sitting through part of the trial that he knew the mother of one of the victims.
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