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Defense tries to cast doubt on ID of shooter in toddler’s death

The defense in the first-degree murder trial of Ellis Royster pounded away Thursday morning at a key prosecution witness, trying to show the jury that there is doubt whether it was Royster who fired the shots in 2010 that killed a 2-year-old boy.

For the second straight day, Shariff Baker held the witness stand. Baker was an eyewitness to the Aug. 12, 2010, shooting and he gave conflicting accounts to police about who fired the shots.

Wednesday, Baker told the jury that Royster had opened fire at a passing car on the night of Aug.12, 2010. One of those bullets struck the toddler, Amias Robinson, who was in a stroller in a nearby yard.

To support Baker’s claim that Royster fired the shots, the prosecution put a Charlotte-Mecklenburg police detective on the stand Thursday. The detective testified that Baker told him shortly after the shooting that Royster had indeed fired the shots.

But defense attorney Richard Tomberlin led Baker through the transcript of an interview Baker later had with two CMPD detectives in which he said Alvin Alexander had pulled the gun that night in northeast Charlotte, the culmination of a $10 marijuana sale gone bad.

Court testimony describes that Alexander sold crack on Eastbrook Road. According to the interview transcript, Baker, 16 at the time, told investigators that he had first identified Royster as the shooter because he feared reprisals from Alexander, saying during the interview that the drug deal “would send somebody to come get me.”

Under questioning by Tomberlin, Baker said he told detectives that Alexander had warned him, “Bro, you better keep your mouth closed.”

Police arrested Alexander the next day. He was released two months later, close to the time of Royster’s arrest. If convicted, Royster faces life without parole.

Before the trial broke for a lunch break, Assistant District Attorney Bill Bunting put Detective William Terry Brandon on the witness stand. He told the eight women and four men on the jury that based on earlier testimony from other witnesses, police believed Alexander had fired the shots.

When Baker first told them it was Royster, Brandon said, police believed he was lying. After they threatened him with an attempted murder charge if he wasn’t telling the truth, he said, Baker changed his story.

At one point in the early morning hours of Aug. 13, police had charged both Royster and Alexander with the crime.

During his testimony, Baker was asked if the transcript of his conversation with the detectives included any mention of the threat of arrest.

He said it did not. “I wonder why,” he added.

Both of Amias’ parents were back in the courtroom this morning. The child’s father, Charles Robinson, had been dragged from the courtroom Tuesday after he stood in the courtroom and started shouting accusations at Royster that he had killed his son.

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