Crime

Case of three accused of fatal shooting outside Tacoma convenience store goes to jury

The three men accused in the fatal shooting of Brandon Morris flank defense attorney Peter Connick, second from left, prior to closing arguments in Pierce County Superior Court on Monday From left: Jermohnn Gore, 17; Connick; Alexander Kitt, 24, and Clifford Krentkowski, 18, partially obscured.
The three men accused in the fatal shooting of Brandon Morris flank defense attorney Peter Connick, second from left, prior to closing arguments in Pierce County Superior Court on Monday From left: Jermohnn Gore, 17; Connick; Alexander Kitt, 24, and Clifford Krentkowski, 18, partially obscured. dperine@thenewstribune.com

Shots fired from an SUV with six young men inside killed 19-year-old Brandon Morris outside a Tacoma convenience store, Pierce County prosecutors said.

And while it appeared only two guns were fired, prosecutors argued everyone in the vehicle was equally guilty.

Defense attorneys for three of the men, whose trial went to the jury early Tuesday after a monthlong trial, disagreed.

They said in closing arguments that the evidence prosecutors offered wasn’t sufficient to prove their clients were shooters or accomplices in Morris’ death.

The jury must decide whether 17-year-old Jermohnn Gore, 24-year-old Alexander Kitt and 18-year-old Clifford Krentkowski are guilty of first-degree murder for the shooting May 1, 2015.

They also are charged with four counts of first-degree assault in connection with the shooting.

Prosecutors said it was a retaliatory gang shooting, but that Morris wasn’t in a gang and just happened to be leaving the convenience store at the time with friends.

Also charged in Morris’ death were 18-year-old Lance Milton-Ausley, 17-year-old Jeremy Bolieu and 16-year-old Trevion Tucker. Tucker and Milton-Ausley pleaded guilty and await sentencing; Bolieu was sentenced to 15 years, three months in prison.

Deputy Prosecutors Greg Greer and Jesse Williams argued at trial that members of a rival gang had fired shots outside Tucker’s home May 1, and that Tucker and the others went looking for the group later that day.

Greer told the jury the six drove to the convenience store near South 45th and Union Avenue, where they knew the other group spent time, and fired shots when they arrived.

He said Morris and his four friends took cover behind a nearby Jeep, but Morris was shot in the head and died from his wounds.

In his closing argument, Greer said the defendants decided “to act as if it’s the Wild West,” by taking the law into their own hands, and that they showed “total disregard for human life.”

He argued that everyone in the vehicle had the same purpose, and that it didn’t matter legally which of the six had fired a gun.

“They’re all equally guilty, and they’re equally guilty at the highest level,” he said.

Defense attorneys pointed out discrepancies between statements Tucker and Milton-Ausley initially gave police and their testimony at trial about what the group intended to do.

Attorney Robert Quillian represented Gore, and argued prosecutors hadn’t proved Gore was a shooter or an accomplice.

He noted the shots appeared fired at random, and suggested the idea was to intimidate and not to cause injury.

Kitt’s attorney, Peter Connick, argued that none of the people who hid behind the Jeep saw a gun pointed at them or fired at them.

He questioned where the bullet that killed Morris came from, and suggested that video showed someone fired at the SUV.

Attorney Walter Peale argued there really wasn’t evidence against Krentkowski, except for the testimony of Tucker and Milton-Ausley, who testified as part of plea negotiations.

And he argued the state hadn’t painted a clear picture of what Krentkowski did.

During his closing argument, Peale told the jury, “Maybe Mr. Krentkowski shouldn’t have been in the SUV, but that’s not what he’s charged with.”

Alexis Krell: 253-597-8268, @amkrell

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