Denell Baker had a tattoo on his arm that said “God protect me from my friends, I can handle my enemies,” prosecutors said.
And it was a friend of his, Deshawn L. Harris, who was convicted in State Supreme Court on Monday afternoon of murdering Baker on Dec. 28, 2014.
The jury saw evidence linking Harris to the crime that was technical, visual and personal.
Out of prison for less than five months, Harris was wearing an ankle monitor that tracked his every move on the night that he, Jordan A. Hicks and another man picked up Baker, 28, from a hotel room and drove through the East Side. It wasn’t until after Baker’s body was dumped on Peach Street that the ankle monitor was cut off and thrown into a garbage tote.
The Chevrolet Tahoe that Harris and Baker were in appears on security video at the same locations pinged by the monitor. Cameras captures all four men at Baker’s hotel and getting into the sport utility vehicle. Other cameras document a stop at a T-shirt shop before the vehicle arrives at a convenience store at East North Street and Jefferson Avenue.
A witness who later would testify for the prosecution – the man who owned the SUV – is seen getting out of the Tahoe’s back door and running into the store, an errand that takes about 30 seconds. Just as he gets back into the SUV, the camera catches muzzle flashes lighting up the interior. The witness jumps back out and hurries down the street on foot while two more flashes are seen as the vehicle drives off.
Baker’s body was dumped a short distance away on Peach, with a total of eight gunshot wounds to his head, arm and torso.
The next day, Parole Officer LaSonya Spearman found Harris’s ankle monitor in a garbage tote.
Baker, 28, knew he had enemies. He already had been shot three on three occasions in 2014 – in May and November, as well as in December, two weeks before his death – and he himself was the chief suspect in the death of John Wesley, 32, who was killed Oct. 29, 2014. Baker refused to cooperate with police investigating the shootings, and he died before he could be charged in Wesley’s death.
Once police pieced together the whereabouts of Harris and Baker the night Baker was killed, and identified the vehicle they were in, they brought in the man who owned the Tahoe. A reluctant witness, he eventually filled in the blanks for investigators once he was confronted with the possibility he and his fiancée, whose name is on the vehicle, could be charged.
The witness said he was taking Hicks and Harris home after watching football when Hicks asked to drive and took them to get Baker. Everyone was friendly, he testified, until the stop at the corner store. He ran in, and when he got back to the SUV, he saw Harris shoot Baker and jumped out. Two days later, police picked him up.
“I was in shock. It was like I was in a movie. I didn’t know what to do,” the witness testified.
Jordan Hicks, who was found with the murder weapon six days after the shooting, pleaded guilty to criminal possession of a weapon and hindering prosecution for helping Harris dispose of the body. He and Harris are scheduled for sentencing before Justice Christopher J. Burns on May 31.