Murder trial witness ‘looked the shooter right in the face'

On the first day of his murder trial, Devonni Manuel Benton was directly pointed out as the man who shot and killed Spelman College sophomore Jasmine Lynn on Sept. 3.

On Sept. 31, less than a month after Lynn’s shooting death, Atlanta Metropolitan College student Brandon Hall picked Benton’s face out of a lineup of photos, a Fulton County prosecutor told the jury Wednesday afternoon.

“Mr. Hall, do you see the person in this room you identified on that day?” assistant district attorney Eleanor Ross asked Hall.

Standing, Hall pointed across the courtroom at Benton, who was seated in a pinstriped suit at the defendant’s table.

“Yes, ma’am. He’s sitting in the navy blue suit,” Hall said.

Lynn’s father seemed somewhat relieved by what Hall told the jury, noting the varied stories from the parade of witnesses presented by the prosecution.

“You sure can’t beat someone saying, ‘I looked the shooter right in the face, and that’s him, right there,’” Clint Ronald Lynn told the AJC when court adjourned Wednesday evening.

Hall’s statement accompanied the introduction of a witness Benton’s defense attorney Jackie Patterson had previously pegged as the “real shooter” and an abrupt admission by Patterson at the end of the day.

“The prints were all over the bag,” he said of the tan and red book bag police entered as evidence, interrupting testimony from a crime scene investigator with a bench meeting, then his proclamation. “It was Devonni’s bag.”

And there became somewhat of a sparring match when Ross called to the stand Clarence Carter, Benton’s friend who Patterson has said admitted to the shooting.

To Ross, Carter denied ever having a gun, let alone firing one on Clark Atlanta’s campus.

But Patterson launched into a debate over evident false statements Carter told police following the shooting.

“All you told them was that you knew [Devonni], and that you didn’t go to Clark Atlanta” on that night, Patterson said. “And that was an outright lie, wasn’t it?”

Carter admitted to the lie, saying in the initial police interview that he didn’t want his girlfriend to know he was at the campus to try to talk to other women.

Patterson continued to attack inconsistencies in Carter’s story, however, such as pointing to cellphone records showing the two-hour call Carter made to his girlfriend just after 1:30 the morning of the shooting, after telling the jury he left campus and went directly to her house.

“You couldn’t have talked to her for two hours if you went straight to her house,” Patterson said.

Other witnesses provided varied accounts of what happened that night, and in some cases, differing descriptions of the gunman.

While Carter said he never saw Benton at CAU that day, Antoine Williams, who gave Carter a ride that day and testified that he was at least near Carter much of the time on campus, said he talked to Benton for about 10 minutes.

Marquise “Tank” Jones described being attacked and beaten by a group of young men riding along James P. Brawley Drive in a late-model Cutlass, and “woke up in the back of a police car.”

He was taken to Grady Memorial Hospital, where he testified that police questioned him, but he couldn’t recall what he told them.

The Clark Atlanta sophomore testified that he saw the shooter from his peripheral vision with dreadlocks, not a mohawk as other witnesses described, and 20-year-old Marcus Strickland said he was drunk when he tackled the shooter on a darkened Mitchell Street and didn’t see the gunman’s face.

“I might have blacked out,” he said, pointing to a head wound he sustained in the encounter.

Testimony before Superior Court Judge T. Jackson Bedford Jr. replayed many of the details from that night.

Lynn’s friend Anthony Miller was the first to describe seeing an actual trigger man shoot and kill Lynn as she tried to break up a fight on the Clark Atlanta campus.

“She told me to duck,” the 21-year-old Miller said from the stand, when a prosecutor asked the first time he realized Lynn was anywhere near the fight.

“When?” Ross asked immediately.

Miller responded in kind.

“When the guy with the mohawk pulled out a gun,” Miller said. “He wore a red hoodie and khaki pants.”

Ross walked Miller from the stand and asked him to show the jury where Lynn was standing in relation to him when she called out to him that night … and to show where the gunman was.

Using Ross to represent Lynn, Miller walked Ross to a spot about 10 paces in front of him, then gestured over his shoulder.

“The shooter was behind me,” he said. “I turned around toward the shooter. Then I looked back to Jasmine, and it looked like she was getting down. I didn’t realize she had been shot.”

Lynn’s mother, Constance Franklin, wrapped herself in white shawl and, at times, rocked back and forth while listening to the testimony.

The day began with the prosecution alleging Benton fired several shots at random on the night of Lynn’s death.

“He took that gun out of that American Eagle bag and fired it … not one, not two, not three, four or five times, but at least six times,” Ross told the jury during her opening statement earlier Wednesday morning.

She promised to present witnesses who would consistently describe a man with a mohawk haircut with reddish or blondish tips shooting, then dropping a tan bag as he fled.

Patterson, told the jury that Carter was the actual shooter.

“Not only did he do the shooting, he confessed to several friends that he did the shooting,” Patterson said. “There’s no better way of knowing who did the shooting than the shooter admitting that he did it. He confessed to at least two people.”

The prosecution called five other witnesses before the lunch break. One was Atlanta Police Officer Jonathan Hanley, who was the first on the scene. Another was Jarvis Jones, who also was shot in the incident. Neither Jones, Lynn’s friend Tiffani Nixon, Mark Boddy nor Keith Reid, two individuals involved in the initial altercation, were able to tell jurors that they saw a gunman.

Jones told the jury all he recalled seeing were the colors red and black from the direction of the gunfire. Witnesses told police that the shooter was wearing a red hooded sweatshirt and dark colored pants. Jones said when the gun was fired, he dove toward the ground, then went inside a dorm and pulled the bullet out of his right forearm. Jones had been standing in front of Ware Hall, which is across the street from where the shooting took place.

Reid told the jury he recalled seeing seeing a tall, slender, dark-skinned man flash a gun before the shooting started, but could not remember what the book bag that had contained the gun looked like. He also admitted to the jury that he had lied to the police during the initial part of the investigation. He had told police that he was in a dorm with Lynn, but he had been in a car with people who were involved in the altercation. He contends he was not involved in the fight.

Court resumes Thursday morning at 9:15 a.m.