Two young men charged in the fatal beating of an elderly church deacon in his East Side home went there looking for drugs and money, a prosecutor told a judge Tuesday at the beginning of their murder trial.
Shaquar Pratcher, 18, and Elhajji Elshabazz, 23, believed that a 56-year-old recovering drug addict who took care of the 96-year-old deacon, Levi Clayton, was still dealing drugs and that there was a lot of money in the house on Longview Avenue, Assistant District Attorney Michael P. Felicetta said.
“That’s what led these two defendants to that house on Nov. 24, 2012,” he said in his opening statement at the bench trial before State Supreme Court Justice Christopher J. Burns.
He admitted that Paula Denise Goree Smith, whose mother was a friend of Clayton’s and helped her look after him, “was not an ideal caretaker.”
Smith had moved in to take care of Clayton, who lived alone following the death of his wife, in 2006 after she was paroled from federal prison in Michigan where she had been serving a sentence for bank fraud.
And in April 2012, federal drug agents had raided the Clayton home, seizing shotguns, handguns and Smith’s drug paraphernalia for weighing drugs. She eventually pleaded guilty to two felony drug charges in Erie County Court and was referred to the judicial diversion program for drug treatment.
The home’s exterior had four surveillance cameras, which captured Pratcher and Elshabazz pulling up to the house that evening in a minivan with two co-defendants who have pleaded guilty to burglary charges, the prosecutor said.
He said one of the co-defendants, Justice Feggans, 19, a basketball star at Riverside High School, had come up with the idea of breaking into the home but didn’t want to go in.
The other co-defendant, Jordan McKinnon, 20, was the getaway driver.
After Smith left the house with her brother to go shopping, Felicetta said, Pratcher and Elshabazz were seen on the security camera video in the backyard with a knife and a gun. One of them slit the screen on the window where Clayton’s bedroom was located, but they ran away when they saw Clayton, he said.
Pratcher returned to the backyard with Feggans, Felicetta said. Feggans boosted Pratcher up to the window, handed him the gun, then followed him into the bedroom, he said.
Clayton tried unsuccessfuly to stop them from entering, throwing a lamp at them.
Once inside, Feggans testified Tuesday, he went to open the side door while Pratcher stayed in the bedroom. When Feggans returned, he said he saw Pratcher standing over Clayton.
“I had to put the old man down,” Feggans said Pratcher told him.
Feggans, who took a plea deal that leaves him facing up to 15 years in prison, testified that he didn’t see Pratcher hit Clayton, who suffered massive facial injuries, including fractures of the jaw, a broken nose and a hematoma on the brain and died about 4½ months later on April 9, 2013, according to the prosecutor.