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Father of slain child removed from Mecklenburg court for shouting at defendant

The murder trial stemming from the fatal shooting of a 2-year-old Charlotte boy in 2010 opened explosively Tuesday afternoon, with the father of the dead toddler being dragged from a Mecklenburg County courtroom after he began shouting and pointing at the man accused of killing his son.

The eruption took place shortly after testimony had begun in the first-degree murder trial of Ellis Eugene Royster. If convicted, the 25-year-old Charlotte man faces life in prison without parole.

A Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer who answered the Aug. 12, 2010, call on Eastbrook Road had just described the bullet wound in Amias Robinson’s neck when Charles Robinson jumped to his feet in the first row of spectator seats.

He pointed across the courtroom toward the defense table and started shouting that Royster had killed his son.

Sheriff’s deputies on hand swarmed the father, who continued to scream and gesture as he was pulled through the courtroom doors. Robinson’s wife and other family members followed.

Opening arguments had begun less than an hour before, and both sides focused on changing witness accounts that had led to Royster’s arrest.

Based on the earliest accounts from bystanders, police first charged Alvin Alexander with Amias’ death. Alexander was held for more than two months before, prosecutors say, new information from old witnesses and the accounts of several new witnesses swung the investigation toward Royster.

Assistant District Attorney Bill Bunting told the jury that Amias died because of a dispute over a $10 bag of marijuana.

He said on the night of the child’s death, Royster fired at least 11 shots at a passing car. Royster believed it held the man who had run off with money Royster’s friend Shariff Baker had given him for drugs.

One of the 9 mm bullets hit Amias, who was sitting in his stroller nearby.

“Only 2 years old and he never had a chance,” Bunting said.

Baker, he said, initially told police that Royster had fired the shots.

Two other bystanders, however, had identified Alexander as the shooter, and Baker later changed his account to single out Alexander.

Bunting said Baker did so because Baker got scared “and told police what he thought they wanted to hear.”

Later, after police began interviewing new witnesses, Bunting said Baker “told them what he had told them all along” – that Royster was the killer.

Conflicting witness accounts

Defense attorney Richard Tomberlin, though, said the conflicting witness accounts undermine the prosecution’s case. He read portions of the earliest witness statements that had identified Alexander as the shooter and had not put Royster at the scene with a gun.

Another witness had said the shooter was dark-skinned, wore dreadlocks, and fled the scene in a car, Tomberlin said.

He also told the jury that one witness had altered an account of the event after hearing from Alexander’s family.

“All of a sudden, Alvin Alexander is free and my client is in jail,” he said.

The trial’s first testimony came from Amias’ mother, Armisher Glenn.

Under questioning by co-prosecutor Jay Ashendorf, Glenn told the jurors that some of her teenage cousins were baby-sitting her son on that August night in 2010. She said she had talked with the toddler early in the evening, that he was having fun and wanted to stay with his cousins longer.

Later that night, Glenn got a call from the baby-sitters’ mother.

“She said, ‘You need to come to the hospital,’ Glenn recalled, as her composure began to break.

“I said, ‘Why?’

“She said, ‘Just come.’

“No, you tell me what’s wrong.”

“... He got shot.”

Five minutes after she left the witness stand, Glenn followed silently as Robinson, her enraged husband, was being dragged from the courtroom.

Tomberlin asked Superior Court Judge Robert Bell to ban the father from the courtroom for the remainder of the trial. He argued that Robinson would be a distraction to a jury trying to weigh evidence while wondering when Robinson would “go off again.”

Bell said he would give the father another chance, adding that he would “put him in jail” if Robinson disrupts the trial a second time.

Earlier, the judge had one last message for his new jury before he sent the eight women and four men home for the day.

“A trial takes on a life of its own,” he said, alluding to the disruption. “This is not TV. These are real-life tragedies.

“But it’s the jury’s responsibility ... to base your decision on the law and the evidence, not on the emotion.”

Gordon: 704-358-5095
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