After six hours of police interrogation, Demetrius Huff changed his story and told a homicide detective he did see the brutal stabbing death of 16-year-old Darren Brown in a wooded area near Colvin Avenue in North Buffalo, the detective said last week at the teenager’s murder trial.
During the questioning – four days after Brown was killed on July 5, 2012 – Huff told police that he and Ezeiekile Nafi backed away while fellow gang member Antoine Sanders kept stabbing Brown.
Afterward, Sanders told them, “See what I can do? Don’t snitch,” according to Huff’s statement, Detective Salvatore Valvo testified.
The next day, Valvo said he and Detective Sgt. James Lonergan took another statement from Huff in which the teenager admitted stabbing Brown a dozen times.
Huff was arrested and charged with second-degree murder.
Valvo also described finding a pair of blood-stained sneakers Dec. 12 under a chair in the attic at the home of Huff’s grandmother.
The story of how Brown died has been unfolding in a Buffalo courtroom – for the second time this year – as prosecutors seek to convict the 18-year-old Huff of murder.
Nafi, 17, was sentenced in May to 25 years after a jury found him guilty of first-degree manslaughter.
Sanders, 20, has not been charged, although police said at Nafi’s trial that Sanders remained a potential suspect and had been interviewed.
Assistant District Attorney Sara N. Ogden called Brown’s death “a brutal and disgusting case of gang violence” that was the result of a gang-related admissions procedure.
She said Huff inflicted a dozen of the 54 stab wounds on the victim and then returned to the scene and burned the body with gasoline.
Defense attorney Paul G. Dell told jurors that what happened was “a horrible, tragic story, as bad as it gets.” But prosecutors lack proof to convict Huff, Dell said.
The two sides outlined their cases during opening statements last week at Huff’s murder trial before State Supreme Court Justice Russell P. Buscaglia.
A man walking his dogs on July 6, 2012, found Brown’s body under brush, left “like trash,” Ogden said.
Brown’s throat and carotid artery had been cut, his lung punctured and his spinal column severed, she said.
Ogden told the jury that in Huff’s first statement to police two days later, he admitted he had been at the crime scene but denied stabbing Brown.
A day later, police went to the home on Jewett Parkway where Huff lived with his grandmother, and he was taken to Police Headquarters and interviewed again. This time, Ogden said, he confessed, admitting he had stabbed Brown a dozen times and later returned to set the body on fire.
She said police returned to the home in December and found a pair of bloody sneakers in the attic. She said the knife was not found.
In addition to Huff’s statements, prosecutors are counting on another inmate’s testimony. After Huff was sent to the Erie County Holding Center, he befriended the inmate, who will testify that Huff gave a graphic, handwritten account of the killing, why it occurred and his thoughts before and after the attack, Ogden said.
But Ogden told jurors they will not hear from a 24-year-old man named David Elliott who approached a detective at the crime scene and provided police the information that led them to Huff, Nafi and Sanders.
Elliott had met Brown the day he died. He also had talked with the gang members whom police said killed Brown.
Elliott testified at Nafi’s trial, but now authorities have no idea where he is.
Before Nafi’s trial, Elliott moved out of state after he had been shot at in retaliation for cooperating.
Huff previously pleaded guilty to first-degree manslaughter in connection with Brown’s death, but he abruptly refused to cooperate in Nafi’s prosecution. So his plea was vacated and prosecutors renewed the murder case against him.
Dell told the jury the attack was horrible. “But the question is whether Demetrius did it,” he said.
He said most of the evidence will prove the crime occurred but “very little will tie Demetrius” to the killing.
Dell said the case against his client boils down to the two statements Huff gave police. He noted that the first came around 12:30 in the morning after six hours of interrogation at Police Headquarters with no family or lawyer present on behalf of Huff, who was 17 at the time.
The interrogation was based on information from a questionable source – a gang member – he said.
The Holding Center inmate expected to testify is a drug addict, violent criminal, lifetime thief and liar who can’t be trusted, Dell said. He said DNA evidence adds nothing to the case, and argued that the evidence is not sufficient to convict Huff.
One of the first witnesses questioned last week by homicide prosecutor Colleen Curtin Gable was Detective Reginald Minor.
He testified that he went to the crime scene July 6 after the body was discovered and that Elliott approached him and told him he had information on the killing. He said Elliott also told him he was a member of the Rolling ’60s Crips gang.
Based on Elliott’s information, Sanders’ Hertel Avenue apartment was searched but nothing was found in connection with the killing.
Valvo testified that he interviewed Huff on July 8 at Police Headquarters from 6:30 p.m. to about 12:30 a.m. July 9. For six hours, Huff denied being at the murder scene. But when Valvo began taking a written statement, Huff changed his story, admitting he had been there and that he saw Sanders stab Brown multiple times.
The statement was completed at 1:20 a.m. Then Valvo drove Huff home.
The next day, Lonergan and Valvo took another statement from Huff, and the teenager was arrested on a murder charge afterward.