Friday, March 7, 2003

Fights, taunts led up to shooting

Boy, 13, borrowed gun from store clerk, police say

By Sharon Turco
The Cincinnati Enquirer

A handcuffed 13-year-old accused of shooting a 15-year-old to death is taken out of Hamilton County Juvenile Court after a hearing Thursday.
The Cincinnati Enquirer/TONY JONES

For months, a 13-year-old North Fairmount boy had been clashing with three teenagers who lived in his Beekman Street apartment building, according to testimony Thursday in Hamilton County Juvenile Court.

They had once been friends, but the boy told police that Michale and Jatawn Swan had been having sex with his sisters, which angered him. He said the Swans and their friend, Arick Hudson, taunted him, words turning to violence.

On Feb. 20, the boy told police, he'd had enough of the older boys' bullying. He said he borrowed a .380 semiautomatic handgun from an 18-year-old clerk at a nearby convenience store and, when the boys came near, he started firing.

Witnesses and police pieced together what happened that night during the Thursday hearing.

"They had arguments, they had been fighting. ... Michale and Jatawn threw (the sexual relationships) in his face, kind of pushed his button," Cincinnati Police Officer Keith Witherell testified. "He stated he had to release himself because he was frustrated."

Arick, 15, was shot to death. Michale, 14, who took a bullet in the neck; is paralyzed from the neck down. Jatawn, 15, was hit in the fleshy part of his shoulder and has recovered.

The 13-year-old, whom the Enquirer is not identifying because of his age, faces juvenile charges of murder with a firearm and two counts of felonious assault with a firearm. Juvenile Judge Sylvia Hendon determined Thursday the case can be presented to a grand jury.

Attorney Clyde Bennett, who represents the 13-year-old, does not dispute that the shooting happened. He says the boy did not mean to injure or kill anyone. He was reacting to the victims' antagonizing comments about his sisters and their sexual relationship, and their repeated attacks on him, Bennett said.

"(The boy) feels horrible," the attorney said. "The cross-examination of the police officer indicated the defendant felt threatened by these individuals when they appeared in his presence.

"He fired a weapon in an attempt to stop an attack," Bennett added.

The boy is among the youngest people ever charged with murder in Hamilton County. His case comes less than two years after an 8-year-old Northside girl was beaten to death by a 13-year-old male cousin and her 11-year-old brother. Both those boys were found guilty on juvenile murder counts.

Thursday's hearing in the North Fairmount case was to determine whether the 13-year-old can be designated a serious youthful offender, meaning, if convicted, he could serve part of his sentence in the adult prison system. The hearing was continued.

As the boy, his legs shackled, huddled close to his mother Thursday at the defense table, Witherell recalled Feb. 20, describing how the deadly afternoon unfolded.

Officers were called to Beekman Street at 4:30 p.m. where the boys had been fighting, Witherell said. The fight dispersed and the boys went their separate ways.

Two hours later the boys ended up together at MJ's Variety Store at Beekman and Dempsey streets, a convenience store where teens often hang out.

The 13-year-old boy was with a sister and a female cousin when the Swans and Hudson walked up, the officer said.

Earlier in the week, Michale and the boy had fought, and Michale wanted to finish the fight, Jatawn said in his testimony Thursday.

"What's up? Let's fight one-on-one," Jatawn recalled his brother saying. "It wasn't going to be no jumping."

Witherell said the 13-year-old told officers he became fearful when the three walked toward him. Words were exchanged, but the officer did not specifically say what was said.

The boy asked his 18-year-old clerk friend to give him the gun. He did, warning, "Don't do anything you'll regret," the boy told police.

The clerk went back to work.

"By that time the boys had passed him, but they came back," Witherell said. "That's when he fired."

He fired in between the boys, the bullets striking the victims as they scattered, the officer testified.

"He never said he tried to kill anybody," Witherell said.

The boy said he doesn't remember how many shots were fired.

"He pulled out a gun and just started shooting," Jatawn testified. "I was trying to get away... I heard three gunshots ... I was hit by a bullet."

Jatawn escaped into a friend's car, not knowing if his friends had been hurt.

At the gunshots, the store clerk returned and took the gun back. The boy stopped, hugged his sister and cousin, then ran home, according to police. His mother met him at the door.

"He said don't worry, hugged her and went upstairs," Witherell said.

911 calls poured into the Police Department and officers found the boy at home. Witherell described him as cooperative.

The clerk gave the gun to police and has not been charged in the case. Cincinnati police say they are still investigating.


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