Crime & Courts

Prosecutor: Borum’s gun didn’t work the first time he shot at police, so he fired again

A closer look at the moment Justin Carr died

Fractions of a second before Justin Carr was fatally shot, a frame from this police video shows a small blip of gold light to the right of where the Charlotte man was standing.
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Fractions of a second before Justin Carr was fatally shot, a frame from this police video shows a small blip of gold light to the right of where the Charlotte man was standing.

While uptown Charlotte roiled around him, Rayquan Borum twice aimed his gun at Charlotte-Mecklenburg police on the night of Sept. 21, 2016, a prosecutor said Tuesday in Borum’s first-degree murder trial on Tuesday.

During the first attempt, the gun didn’t fire, Assistant District Attorney Glenn Cole said. On the second try, the gun went off, killing Justin Carr, whom Cole said walked into the path of the bullet.

Carr’s death occurred while parts of the city recoiled in anger a day after a CMPD officer shot and killed Keith Lamont Scott.

The alleged new details surrounding Carr’s death have dripped out this week in a Mecklenburg courtroom as attorneys interview prospective jurors. Cole went a step further, offering previews of the prosecution’s case.

If convicted, Borum, 24, faces a mandatory life in prison without parole. His attorneys, Mark Simmons and Darlene Harris, have objected to Cole’s allegations of their client’s guilt as he interviewed jurors. Simmons specifically seized upon a statement he said Cole made on Thursday, which included an assertion that Borum had only himself to blame for being in the courtroom.

The statement, according to Simmons, violated Borum’s right to be presumed innocent unless the prosecution can prove otherwise. That brought a pointed response from Cole, which included an allusion to the allegation promoted through social media and the activist group Charlotte Uprising that Carr was killed by police, and not Borum.

Cole said he offered details as he questioned jurors to see if they can follow the law and that he had repeatedly said prosecutors still must prove their case.

“Our situation is different from the defendant’s situation. We have proof,” Cole told Superior Court Judge Greg Hayes. “We actually have proof that Borum was shooting at police.”

That includes video evidence, Borum’s own statements and the expected testimony of an as yet unnamed witness who was with Borum the night of the shooting, Cole said.

The prosecutor said he and co-counsel Desmond McCallum can also prove that Borum’s gun didn’t work the first time he took aim at a line of police officers guarding the Omni Hotel on the night of Sept. 21. So Cole said he tried again and hit Carr by mistake. One bullet struck Carr above his left ear, killing him instantly.

In contrast, Cole said, the defense team “have not provided any evidence — none — to show that police did anything in this case.”

In a video of his police interrogation following his arrest, Borum confessed to the shooting. But Borum said it was an accident, occurring after he says he fired his gun in the air to disperse the crowd of demonstrators outside the Omni Hotel who were protesting Scott’s death.

The prosecution’s assertion that Borum wanted to kill a police officer added drama to a trial that has yet to seat its first juror.

The allegation also cost the trial one of the 12 juror candidates. A middle-aged white woman, who said she had considered several law enforcement officers as friends, had already undergone two days of juror questioning. But on Tuesday morning, she told Cole the allegation that Borum may have been aiming at police made it impossible for her to be fair and impartial.

“I want him to have a fair trial,” she said of Borum. “I don’t think I can provide that.”

By midday, a total of 13 jurors had been removed from the trial. They included one man whose brother had died in Africa the night before jury selection began, to several others who said serving on what’s expected to be a long trial would devastate them financially.

Another man said he could not support a life sentence, even if Borum is convicted. A Charlotte funeral home director said he could not be fair because he had thoroughly discussed the case with Carr’s family members while they were considering him to handle Carr’s funeral. Another woman who told the courtroom that she had lost her brother and stepson to homicides said she “no faith in the criminal justice system.” All were excused.

Others were not.

One potential juror, a pregnant woman, told the judge she should be excused because her morning sickness might be triggered in the courtroom by autopsy photos shown during the trial. The judge politely refused to excuse her.

Another potential juror told Judge Hayes and attorneys that she worried about the safety of her family should her name become public after the verdict.

The judge tried to reassure her. “Our jury system can only operate when jurors feel sale through the entire process,” Hayes said. Then, he refused to unseat her.

Michael Gordon has been the Observer’s legal affairs writer since 2013. He has been an editor and reporter at the paper since 1992, occasionally writing about schools, religion, politics and sports. He spent two summers as “Bikin Mike,” filing stories as he pedaled across the Carolinas.