Homicide detectives and prosecutors said the four men, who were charged with first-degree murder, fired their guns into the group due to a dispute between rival neighborhood gangs. But Sgt. Keith Batton, a D.C. detective testified there was no evidence that Malachi was in a gang. And defense attorneys for the men argued that prosecutors also provided no evidence that their clients were in gangs.
Dayson said prosecutors provided enough evidence to show the four men were in the vehicle at the time of the shooting. But Dayson, like the men’s attorneys, said there was no proof the shooting was gang related.
“It is not extremely surprising to me that there is not a rational motive for the killing of a 13-year-old person,” the judge said. “It’s not clear why any person was targeted, but it does appear that someone was targeted.”
The hearings marked one of the first times the courthouse used remote video conferencing to hold preliminary hearings in a complex murder case with multiple co-defendants. The courthouse closed to in-person proceedings this spring due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The hearings proved exceptionally challenging for the judge and prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Michelle Jackson. There appeared to be trouble identifying the dozens of individuals watching the hearing via the Web or listening via telephone to ensure witnesses in the case were not watching the hearing.
The concern was that if a witness was watching and listening to testimony from the detective and viewing evidence that was being presented, the witness’s testimony in the trial could be influenced.
When such court hearings were held before the coronavirus pandemic, prosecutors, attorneys and detectives were able to canvass the courtroom and identify individuals who had been identified as witnesses, then ask them to sit outside the courtroom.
During the hearings this week, Dayson repeatedly asked individuals observing the hearing to identify themselves. Most did. Some did not respond. By Friday, those who did not identify themselves were disconnected from the Web hearing. But what was never determined was if any witnesses were sitting with another person at home as that person was allowed to watch the hearing.
The Web-based hearings also created problems when individuals recorded and took photos of the proceedings despite the judge’s admonishments. After the first hearing Tuesday, Jackson showed the judge several photos from the hearing that someone had taken and posted on Instagram.
Despite the technical difficulties, the hearings proceeded and additional details in the case emerged. Jackson played a security video from a BP gas station that showed the four men in the same car, just an hour before the shooting.
Batton, the detective, testified that the fatal shooting was in retaliation for the 2019 fatal shooting of 19-year-old Tahlil Byrd near the Shaw Metro station in the 600 block of S Street NW, the same area were Malachi was killed.
Batton testified that Byrd was a member of a crew called 35 Double Zero, or 3500, which is aligned with several other groups, including the Really Ready Gang. They said the man convicted of shooting Byrd is associated with a crew called Lincoln Westmoreland, or LWM, named after a housing complex at Eighth and R streets NW in the Shaw neighborhood. Police said the suspects charged with targeting Malachi’s group were avenging the killing of Byrd.
Jackson presented several text messages and social media posts and photos which the detective testified was evidence linking the men to neighborhood gangs. But the attorneys for the men argued there was no proof who posted the photos to social media and sent the text messages.
In making their arrests, authorities also relied on interviews with informants, gun-ballistics evidence and a GPS log for the Kia Soul that also included a piece of tape on the vehicle detectives said captured Koran Jackson’s fingerprint.
In ordering the men to remain in jail, Dayson noted that at the time of Malachi’s killing, all four of the men were on court supervision or probation for previous felonies including carrying a pistol without a license and robbery.