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Defendant testifies he felt threatened before fatal shooting

Antone Herrod waited more than a year to tell his side of the story, about why he believes he had no choice but to shoot Christopher Pratt on Rother Avenue the night of Dec. 1, 2014. Finally, on Friday morning, he took the stand as the last witness in his trial in Erie County Court.

Herrod, 32, who is charged with second-degree murder in Pratt’s death, has refused since his arrest in February 2015 to plead guilty to a lesser charge in the case, according to his attorney, Paul Dell, because he maintains that the shooting, though “unfortunate,” was justified.

Both sides in the case agree on the basic timeline of events the night of the shooting.

Pratt was killed during a chance encounter at about 3 a.m. on a well-lit street, when he and a woman he had picked up earlier were arguing near a house where they went to get drugs. Herrod also did drug business on Rother and happened to pull up with his girlfriend, Yasmine Hall. The couple recognized the woman with Pratt so they stopped. The two men had never met, but Hall knew Pratt well – and they were not on good terms.

And Pratt recognized Hall in the car. He allegedly started shouting threats and, after taking a swing at Herrod, said, “I’m not playing!” and “Watch this!” before heading back toward his nearby SUV.

As Herrod told it to the jury, Hall then shouted to him that the man was Pratt and that he was going to start shooting.

By all accounts, Herrod responded by getting a loaded rifle out of the trunk of his car and firing twice in Pratt’s direction, missing with the first shot and hitting him in the back with the second bullet.

“The only thing that was going through my mind is ‘I can’t let that man get back to his car,’  ” Herrod testified. “My aim was not to kill him. My aim was just to keep him from retrieving whatever he was going to retrieve.”

Herrod conceded that he never saw Pratt pull a weapon. Police who arrived on the scene minutes later – when Pratt lay dying in the street and Herrod and the two women had driven away – testified they also didn’t find a gun on Pratt, nor was there a weapon in his SUV.

For Herrod, that didn’t matter in the heat of the moment.

“ ‘Watch this?’ I don’t want to watch nobody do nothing in a place like that,” Herrod said. “I’m not crazy. I live on the East Side of Buffalo and I know what that means.”

Although Herrod hadn’t met Pratt before that night, he said he knew him by reputation. At the time of his death, Pratt was free on bail and awaiting sentencing on a conviction for a July 2013 shooting that left his victim permanently blinded. Hall, Herrod’s girlfriend, also had identified Pratt to the District Attorney’s Office in 2012 as the gunman in a drive-by shooting (that victim also survived) and as the masked man who broke into her family’s home later that year and shot her mother, leaving the woman paralyzed.

Herrod testified he had no idea that the man in the street was Pratt when he got out of the car that Dec. 1 to intervene in the argument Pratt was having with Jessica Fero – a woman Herrod knew because she bought drugs from him. He testified he told Pratt he should just go, but Pratt, who appeared – and was – drunk refused to leave.

“He was pointing his finger (at the car) and saying ‘Yaz, that is you, Yaz, you (expletives). Let’s see if you go to the DA this time!’” Herrod said. “I said ‘Whoa! Calm down’ – I still don’t know who it is – and he said, ‘Yaz, I’m not playing!’ ”

Within moments, Pratt had hollered, “Watch this!,” Herrod had fired the rifle and Pratt was on the pavement.

On cross examination, Assistant District Attorney John Feroleto put the encounter in a different context:

“You’re a convicted felon, you’re going over (to Rother) to pick up money for drugs and you have a loaded gun in the trunk,” Feroleto said.

He posed alternative courses of action to Herrod that didn’t include shooting anyone: Could they have kept driving when they saw Pratt? Could he have punched Pratt instead of shooting him? Or could he have gotten in the car and driven away when Pratt made his threats?

The prosecutor also asked why Herrod fired before he knew whether Pratt had a gun.

“What I had was his promise. I made the assumption (he was armed) based on his words,” Herrod said. “At that point I realized the situation and how far it could go. Everything happened fast.”

After Pratt was shot, Herrod said, he took the rest of the ammunition out of the rifle and threw it in a trash bin at a Burger King. Some days later, he left Buffalo. He was arrested two and a half months later in Georgia.

Feroleto also asked Herrod to explain why he left town if he knew the police were looking for him and he believed he was innocent.

“I went to Georgia for a couple reasons,” Herrod said. “First, I didn’t want to go to jail for a murder I didn’t intend to commit. Second, Mr. Pratt’s family had kept sending threats to shoot up the house, and I didn’t want that for something I didn’t intend.”

Herrod has been in custody since he was brought back from Florida.

email: mmiller@buffnews.com