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Eastbrook Road drama plays out in trial over slain toddler

Shariff Baker says he tried twice to tell police who fired the shots that killed 2-year-old Amias Robinson, but they wouldn’t believe him.

When the shooting started on Aug. 12, 2010, Baker said he closed his eyes. When he opened them, a friend from the neighborhood was an arm’s length away, holding a black handgun.

That friend, Baker told a Mecklenburg Superior Court jury, was Ellis Royster.

Testifying at Royster’s first-degree murder trial on Wednesday, Baker said that later that night he told police what he had seen – first in front of his house, then to detectives at the police station.

“How did the detectives react?” prosecutor Bill Bunting asked.

“They told me I was lying,” said Baker, now 18.

“Were you lying?” Bunting replied.

“No,” Baker said.

But by now, Baker told the jury, he was afraid he was about to be locked up. Police already had witnesses telling them that someone else had fired the shots. So Baker, according to Bunting’s opening argument to the jury, changed his account and told police what he thought they wanted to hear.

He said Alvin Alexander had pulled the gun.

Alexander was arrested that night and held for more than two months, largely on the accounts of Baker and other witnesses. In October 2010, he was released, and Royster was charged in the shooting.

On Wednesday, Royster, 25, Baker and Alexander, 37, took turns facing each other in Courtroom 5370. Each had grown up on Eastbrook Road, which forms a horseshoe in northeast Charlotte not far from where The Plaza meets W.T. Harris Boulevard. And from Baker’s and Alexander’s testimony, a portrait of the neighborhood began to form.

It was a place where Alexander dealt crack to a regular list of customers, but where Royster’s grandmother, known universally in the neighborhood as “the Candy Lady,” sold everything from chocolate bars to pigs’ feet from the kitchen of her Eastbrook Road home.

It was also a neighborhood of first names, and on Wednesday jurors heard about “Dellehay,” “Turk,” “JD,” and “Unique.” But drugs were a neighborhood cornerstone, and violence could erupt over as little as a 10 dollar bill.

On the afternoon of Aug. 12, Baker testified that he called JD “and asked for some weed.” He was 16 at the time.

JD drove up in a blue four-door sedan. Turk was with him. Dellehay, in the backseat, took Baker’s $10.

“Then they told me to ‘fall back,’ and drove off,” Baker testified. “I felt like I got robbed.”

He took a walk down Eastbrook to cool off. He ran into Royster in front of the home he shared with his grandmother. “I told him who took my money,” Baker said. “He said he would get it back for me.”

Alexander and another neighborhood friend named Randy were visiting the Royster house that day – Alexander said they were smoking marijuana and playing video games – and now they joined the conversation by the street.

Turk’s stepdad was one of Alexander’s crack customers, Alexander testified, so he drove down to that home to straighten out the matter of Baker’s money before it got out of hand.

Several teenage girls had walked up and joined the group in front of the house, Baker said. One of them pushed a stroller with a little boy riding inside.

Baker said some of the girls started teasing him about losing his money. Alexander had returned by now, and had parked his SUV in front of the Royster home. Alexander and one of the girls walked up to the house to find the Candy Lady – she to buy a cigarette; he to get two pickles.

When they started out of the house and into the yard, a blue car came rolling up Eastbrook Road.

Shots ring out

Baker says he was standing in the Royster driveway when the blue car came into view. He said he heard Randy yell: “There they go, right there.”

Then he heard the shots. When he opened his eyes, he said he saw Royster and the gun, then watched as his friend walked toward Alexander’s SUV. Randy was sitting inside. “I ----ed up,” Baker said he heard Royster say.

Alexander told the jury that he watched Royster fire a volley from the driveway, then hurried to the back of the SUV, fearing return shots from the blue car. None came. (Police collected almost a dozen 9 mm casings from the scene.)

Alexander said he heard one of the teenage girls scream. The little boy had been hit.

Alexander said he got in the SUV and drove off, wanting to be out of the neighborhood before police arrived. He had crack in his pockets, he said, and he didn’t have a license to drive. “I was dirty,” he told the jury. “I had drugs on me. I didn’t want to be part of it.”

A short time later, he said he got a call from a friend. A TV news alert had already said police were looking for a gray SUV that had left the scene. Alexander said he returned to the neighborhood and went looking for police.

He said he wanted to clear his name.

CPR on the front porch

Alexander was charged with the shooting that night.

The jury heard recordings of calls he made from the jail, swearing his innocence, saying at one point that “Ellis has got me ----ed for real.” In several of the calls, Alexander openly sobs.

In his cross-examination, defense attorney Richard Tomberlin bore in.

“You saw a baby fall out of its stroller,” he told Alexander. “Did you cry as much then as you did on those phone calls?”

Under Tomberlin’s questioning, Alexander admitted he also owned a 9 mm handgun, and had told his girlfriend in a jailhouse call to hide it before police came to search their house.

Alexander, currently serving a state prison term for conspiracy to commit armed robbery, denied that he had a gun on Eastbrook Road that night, or that he had fired the shots.

Shariff Baker, who now lives in New York, testified that the only gun he saw that night was Royster’s.

Before he headed for his home, he said he tried to calm down one of the teenage girls.

He also said he caught sight of Royster. He was on the front porch of his grandmother’s house, giving CPR to the little boy.

Gordon: 704-358-5095
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