Spelman trial: Benton blames friend from stand for shooting death

Devonni Benton took the stand Thursday afternoon to tell a Fulton County jury he didn’t shoot and kill Spelman College sophomore Jasmine Lynn on Sept. 3.

“I didn’t do it,” he said from the stand.

Instead, he told the jury that his friend Clarence Carter shot wildly into the crowd as they fled a fight on Clark Atlanta University’s campus.

“Clarence was behind me,” Benton said. “Then … boom, boom. Clarence started shooting. He was running, shooting, looking back, shooting, and trying to see where he was going.”

Carter, from the stand on Wednesday, denied being the shooter or even seeing Benton during the altercation.

The second day of Benton’s murder trial was highlighted by scenes of the 22-year-old defendant being interrogated by investigators, and by his confessions of lies he’d earlier told to those investigators.

“We discussed what story I was going to tell so nobody would get in trouble,” he said.

Thursday morning a Fulton County jury watched video of Benton being questioned by Atlanta police homicide Det. David Quinn and Fulton County District Attorney's office investigator Marshall English.

"I didn't shoot [anything]!" Benton yelled in an expletive-filled tirade from an excerpt of the video Quinn said was recorded at Atlanta police headquarters on Oct. 6, the day after Benton was arrested. "I didn't see nobody shooting!"

Of course, Thursday Benton testified that he wasn’t honest about not seeing a shooter.

Benton told jurors that he and Carter and three other friends agreed to lie about what happened on Clark’s campus.

He told officers he rode the bus from his College Park home to the campus, then said in court that he, Carter, Omari Taylor, Marquis “Tank” Jones and Antoine Williams all met near the school to go there together.

Benton also told officers that he was not wearing a red mohawk, red jacket and khaki shorts, as several witnesses testified -- when in fact, he was, as he admitted to the jury.

And after the shooting, Benton told investigators that he called his aunt Sheila Kitchens for a ride home, a detail Kitchens affirmed both in a recorded interview with Quinn the day after her nephew’s Oct. 5 arrest and from the witness stand Thursday.

Benton, however, reversed this story in court.

“I went back to ‘Toine’s car with Clarence, and we left when ‘Toine got there,” Benton said. “Clarence’s words were, ‘Lord knows I didn’t mean to shoot no girl.”

The Sept. 3 shooting occurred after a fight started between a group of men and several of Benton’s friends, who apparently were outnumbered, according to previous testimony.

Lynn, who witnesses said was trying to break up the fight, was hit in the chest by one of six shots fired and later died.

Assistant district attorney Eleanor Ross showed clips of video from the roughly 90-minute interview with Benton as she questioned Quinn on the stand Thursday morning.

Benton, dressed in a light brown suit, looked intently from the defense table at Quinn and at the video image of himself from October.

"Did you ask him if he was trying to defend his friends?" Ross asked Quinn. "Did you ask him if he felt threatened?"

"Yes," Quinn answered to both questions.

English, in one excerpt, suggested the possibility that Benton might have had noble intentions, had he been the shooter.

"We want to give you an opportunity," English said in the video. "If you tell us you felt like you were protecting your boys, it looks a lot better for you. If not, then you’re a cold-blooded killer."

"This ain't no opportunity, 'cause I'm going down for something I didn't do," Benton blurted back.

Benton's attorney, Jackie Patterson, took issue with false statements English and Quinn made to the defendant during the interrogation.

"It was a lie when Investigator English told him the whole thing was on video, and you didn't correct him," Patterson said to Quinn.

"I did not," Quinn replied from the stand.

"So you lied?" Patterson asked.

Quinn told the jury that lying to a suspect was often part of the police fact-finding process.

"It is a tool we use during interrogation," Quinn said.

Patterson at one point motioned to dismiss the case, first saying the prosecutor’s witnesses all gave inconsistent stories about what happened.

He also questioned whether Lynn had actually died.

“The state called the medical examiner to give a cause of death, but produced no death certificate to show Jasmine Lynn was actually dead,” Patterson said, asking for time to find case law supporting his motion.

As Lynn’s parents fumed from the courtroom, Fulton Superior Court Judge T. Jackson Bedford Jr. denied Patterson’s motions, speaking sternly to the latter request.

“With all due respect, Jasmine Lynn’s death was self-evident,” Bedford said.

Patterson did uncover evidence that Brandon Hall, who positively identified Benton as the shooter in police lineups and from the witness stand on Wednesday, went to Banneker High School with Benton.

“I know who he is,” Benton said. “We had a class together.”

But Ross quickly addressed this issue in cross examination.

“Would it be fair to say when [Hall] saw you earlier, he cued in on your face?” she asked Benton.

“Yes,” he answered.

“The state didn’t ask him yesterday if he knew you,” Ross continued, “but your attorney also didn’t ask him if he knew you.”

Testimony from Fulton County associate medical examiner Karen Sullivan showed that the fatal bullet pierced Lynn's right chest and lungs before exiting her back.

Testimony ended Thursday afternoon just before 4:30 p.m.

Both sides will give closing arguments Friday morning, and then Bedford will turn the case over to the jury for its ruling.

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