‘Bullets started flying’

Published 12:20 am Saturday, May 14, 2011

Dontaz Latray Wilkerson brought a gun to a fistfight. Now, he is facing a life sentence for first-degree murder.

A jury found Wilkerson guilty of a litany of crimes stemming from the incident in the early morning hours of Aug. 1, 2010. That’s when he shot 15 rounds at a group of teenagers on Walnut Street, killing TyQuan Lewis. The 18-year-old died of a single gunshot wound to the neck.

“It took a miracle, an absolute miracle, that none of those other young men got hurt,” Jeff James, one of the prosecutors, said during closing arguments Friday.

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The jury deliberated for less than two hours before returning the verdicts on all 10 charges — first-degree murder, using a firearm in the commission of murder, three counts of attempted malicious wounding, three counts of using a firearm in the commission of attempted malicious wounding, shooting in the commission of a felony and shooting a firearm within 1,000 feet of a school.

Witnesses testified that a large group had been at a party on Manning Road, where several fights broke out. Lewis broke up one of the fights between Wilkerson and another man.

Later, Wilkerson summoned Lewis to Walnut Street, near Booker T. Washington Elementary School. According to testimony, the understanding was that the two were meeting up to fight.

Lewis was sitting in the passenger seat when the car pulled up. James pointed to a crime scene photo of the car with the front passenger door still open.

“He didn’t even have a chance to close the door before the rounds started going off,” James said.

Two witnesses who had been with Lewis said they saw Wilkerson making motions as if to raise and shoot a gun, but they didn’t see a gun in his hands. Another witness said he saw someone holding a gun. He couldn’t tell if it was Wilkerson but did say the shooter wasn’t wearing a shirt.

Yet another witness testified that Wilkerson didn’t have a shirt on at the party. The only other person who got out of Wilkerson’s car had gone behind the school to urinate. Back at his girlfriend’s house, witnesses said, Wilkerson asked, “Did I hit anything?”

Defense attorney Richard Davis argued the stories didn’t add up.

“The stories in this case just don’t make sense,” he said. “You’ve got all these people who never saw a gun. Nobody can put a weapon in his hand.”

But the prosecutors said all the arrows in the case were pointing toward the bull’s-eye on Wilkerson’s back.

Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Will Jamerson said it all started because the teens went to Walnut Street to fight.

“These kids went there thinking they were going to have a good old-fashioned fistfight,” Jamerson said. “When they got out of the car, bullets started flying.”

The trial was delayed briefly on Friday when an argument broke out among observers in the hallway during a recess. Judge Rodham T. Delk put an end to that behavior upon his return to the bench, calling all the witnesses and observers into the courtroom and dressing them down.

“The next time … I’m going to hand out contempt citations liberally and people are going to go directly to jail,” he said. “If any of you are itching for a problem, I’d suggest you leave this building and go somewhere else.”

The instigator, a juvenile, was escorted out of the building by deputies, Sheriff Raleigh Isaacs Sr. said.

The jury will reconvene on Monday to recommend a sentence. A co-defendant in the case, Randy Sherrod Copeland Jr., is set for trial July 28-29.