Tyhan Brown, charged with killing a child on a bike during a violent turf war between rival Camden gangs, was wrongly accused, his lawyer said Wednesday in closing arguments at Brown’s trial in the murder of 8-year-old Gabrielle “Gabby” Hill-Carter.
There were no witnesses, no DNA, and no fingerprints to place him at the bloody scene where 20 rounds were fired in less than 10 seconds, defense attorney Adam Brent said.
Law enforcement “wanted to go to that little girl’s mother and say we found someone, but you can’t just go and pick somebody” out of a gang, Brent said.
Authorities say Brown, 20, belonged to the Centerville Bloods and was feuding with Amir Dixon, a member of the Hoover Crips. Their dispute spilled into the streets in the 900 block of South Eighth Street, close to the child’s house, in the early evening hours of August 2016.
“A little girl died because of a turf war over who could sell drugs where,” said Assistant Camden County Prosecutor Christine Shah. She acknowledged that the case against Brown is circumstantial but said that the evidence she presented was solid and that Brown admitted to fellow gang member John Burgos and to a prison cellmate that he was involved in the shooting.
The jury began deliberations late Wednesday afternoon.
Burgos, the state’s key witness, testified that Brown told him he had fired at Dixon but that Dixon “took off and ran right to the little girl.” She was shot in the head. Burgos said Brown also told him that his gun had jammed.
Brown’s extraordinary Facebook videos and postings before and after the incident also establish motive and corroborate the testimony, Shah told the jury.
An overflow crowd of relatives and friends of both the defendant and the victim packed the courtroom. Brown’s family wore white T-shirts that said “Pray It Out” and formed a prayer circle in the lobby before the arguments were heard. When a grainy surveillance video of the crime scene was played, Gabby’s mother rocked sadly back and forth in her seat while the girl’s father consoled her.
The video was captured from 100 yards away and offered no clear view that might identify the shooters.
Four days before the shooting, Brown had mocked Dixon in an expletive-laced Facebook video and said Dixon had called the police after the two men argued over turf. “You called the cops on me and my gang?” he asked, his voice rising incredulously. He was flanked by five or six burly men.
Hours before the shooting, Brown’s mother’s car window was shot, setting the stage for the war. Brown and at least two other shooters ambushed Dixon on the street as Gabby played outside, Shah said. All are responsible for the murder, she said, and others may be charged later if more evidence comes out.
Defense attorney Brent downplayed the Facebook video. He said Brown was just “flexing his muscles” with “a whole bunch of tough-looking guys.” Brown never ordered an execution of Dixon, Brent said, and should not be found guilty ‘by association” with the gang.
Brent also questioned the credibility of Burgos, saying he had been a suspect in the murder because he was a member of the gang and his phone records placed him in the vicinity of the shooting. “There is no proof that his story is true,” Brent said.
Soon after the shooting, Brown posted on Facebook a note that stated he was giving up “this street s—,” because it was “tearing my family apart.”
Shah asked the jury, “What inspired him to give up his way of life?” Then she paused. “He knows he’s responsible for Gabby’s death,” she said.
Then, six months later, in a Facebook Live post he arranged from jail with the help of his girlfriend, Brown identified Burgos as a “rat” who was talking to the police about him. In a message he captioned “Words from Butt,” his nickname, he said he wanted to warn the gang to “stay away” from Burgos, who is nicknamed Stinky.
Shah said that the warning was clear and that it was comparable to his warning about Dixon. “It’s all the same language. … If you call someone a rat, a snitch, ask yourself what is the common meaning of those words,” she said.
Brent, however, said his client warned his gang to “stay away” from Burgos. “He was saying, ‘You need to be careful of John Burgos,’ ” Brent said. “He wasn’t telling them to go get him.”