Witnesses Testify to Seeing Kevin Sanders Jr. Shot to Death, But Which to Believe?
|Two stories, one stand.|
That's what a St. Louis jury will be weighing as early as today as it deliberates in the trial of 18-year-old Darryl Moore, charged with killing a 20-year-old neighbor in a seemingly senseless fight in April 2009.
Yesterday the father of the deceased, Kevin Sanders Sr., was called to the witness stand shortly after the prosecutor and defense attorney made their opening statements. A bear of a man, the 49-year-old Sanders sobbed as he testified to sitting on his front porch in the 5200 block of Highland on April 8 of last year, just moments before witnessing his son's brains exit his head in a point-blank shooting.
As Sanders told the jury, he was waiting on a ride to the doctor's office when he heard shouting in his backyard around 2:30 p.m. Sanders went to investigate, walking the narrow gangway separating his four-family flat from an adjacent building and finding a group of men arguing in his backyard over a crap game.
Sanders says he told the men to leave, at which point he saw his son, Kevin Sanders Jr., also exit the apartment to check in on the disturbance in the backyard. The elder Sanders said he then returned to the front steps to await his ride. A minute or two later, he heard the shouting resume and the sound of fists hitting flesh.
He turned to see a fight spill out of the gangway and into his frontyard. Sanders again got up and walked toward the melee. While passing the gangway he was stopped in his tracks by the sound of a gunshot. He turned to see his son -- his hands up -- falling to the ground. The second shot sprayed Sanders Jr.'s brains onto the brick walls of the gangway.
The shooter, according to Sanders Sr., was Darryl Moore, a kid from the neighborhood with a distinguishing physical characteristic. As Sanders told the police seconds after dialing 911, his son had just been shot by the "little kid down the street with one arm."
That's right: Moore's left arm ends just below the elbow. While making the 911 call, Sanders testified that he yelled out to Moore, asking why he shot his son, at which point he says Moore lifted his shirt to reveal the butt of the handgun.
A seemingly rock-solid piece of testimony. But then next on the witness stand was a neighbor, Lamont Jenkins, who also witnessed the shooting from the rear of the gangway in the backyard. Jenkins testified that -- unlike Sanders Sr. -- he saw the shots come from the front porch and not from inside the gangway. What's more, Jenkins said he didn't actually see the gunman, but only the flame from the muzzle illuminating the darkened gangway.
Jenkin's testimony, however, seemed to directly contradict statements he made in a prior deposition, in which he claimed to see Moore fire the weapon from a different position and later place the gun inside his waistband. As prosecutor John Mantovani told the judge -- over objections from defense attorney Robert Taaffe -- "The witness has gone hostile."
No motive was ever mentioned during the opening of the trial yesterday -- nor is one required. Moore and Sanders Jr. were acquaintances and sometimes hung out together. Sander Sr. said the two had gotten into a disagreement or two prior to the shooting.
If convicted of first-degree murder, Moore would face an automatic punishment of life in prison without the possibility of parole. If convicted of second-degree murder, his sentence could be as little as 10 years.
Author's note: I served as a juror during the voir dire stage of the trial but was cut from the eventual jury selection. Why? I can only speculate, though the defense attorney seemed concerned that I had interviewed at least one of the homicide detectives testifying in the case, albeit years ago and on a separate matter altogether.