- Associated Press - Friday, October 24, 2014

WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) - The murder trial of two men charged in a soccer tournament shooting that left three people dead came to an abrupt halt Friday after an alleged gang member told jurors he had been promised witness protection in a plea bargain with prosecutors.

The statement from Kalmar Allen, 25, came after prosecutor Ipek Medford asked him if he had been promised anything in return for pleading guilty to participating in a criminal gang called the Sure Shots. Medford immediately called for a side conversation between attorneys and Judge Calvin Scott, who instructed jurors that there was no evidence that defendants Jeffrey Phillips, 23, and Otis Phillips, 38, had threatened Allen.

Defense attorneys called for a mistrial.

“That’s a pretty big allegation in front of the jury that they’re now going to have to try to ignore,” Kevin O’Connell, an attorney for Jeffrey Phillips, told the judge after jurors were sent out of the room.

The two defendants, who are not related, are charged with first-degree murder in the July 2012 deaths of soccer tournament organizer Herman Curry, 47, and Alexander Kamara, a 16-year-old player, at Wilmington’s Eden Park. They have pleaded not guilty to charges including murder and participating in a criminal street gang. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.

Prosecutors said Curry was targeted because he witnessed the killing of a friend by Otis Phillips in 2008. Otis Phillips is being tried for that killing as well as the soccer field shootings.

The judge denied the mistrial motions, noting that Allen had not said he had been threatened by anyone. The judge is expected to rule Monday on defense motions to have the defendants tried separately.

With jurors out of the room, Allen said under questioning by attorneys that Otis Phillips had threatened him in jail by drawing a finger across his throat in a slashing motion.

“It’s death. If you talk you’re going to die,” he said.

O’Connell told the judge he planned to question Allen in front of the jury about his plea agreement and payments he has received from the state, in an apparent effort to damage Allen’s credibility. Attorney Michael Heyden, representing Otis Phillips, said testimony about the payments could lead jurors to think the state considered Allen’s testimony to be extremely valuable, which could prejudice them.

The situation, defense attorneys said, had given rise to “antagonistic defenses” requiring separate trials.

According to prosecutors, Jeffrey Phillips, Otis Phillips and other members of the Sure Shots also were out to avenge the killing of a friend, Kirt Williams, earlier on the day of the soccer tournament. Williams was fatally shot, and Allen wounded, at a graduation party hosted by a Jamaican family. Curry was well known among Wilmington’s Jamaican immigrant community.

Prosecutors say witnesses saw Otis Phillips walk up to Curry, tap him on the shoulder, then shoot him three times after he turned around.

Authorities say Otis and Jeffrey Phillips then began spraying bullets as they tried to flee. Kamara died from a single gunshot to the head. Spectators then returned fire as the gunmen fled in a car driven by Sheldon Ogle, 43. Ogle, a cousin of Otis Phillips, was found fatally shot in the driver’s seat of the car after it crashed nearby.

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