Alina Williams didn't think anything of it on June 29 when she saw two young men walking down Humason Avenue. It was a nice summer evening, and she was outside, watching her 8-year-old siblings and another little boy while her brother Juan went in the house to make some peanut butter and jelly crackers.
She saw the men cross the street right in front of her house, close enough that she saw their faces clearly, and continue on their way for another two houses.
"That's when they stopped. They both pulled out guns and were shooting toward a car coming from the Cheektowaga side," Alina said from the witness stand Thursday.
The 15-year-old testified in the weapons and assault trial of Detavion Magee, who is charged in connection with a gunbattle that left Alina's younger brother, Juan Rodriguez, critically injured with a bullet wound in his head.
Alina told how the car stopped and she knew there was gunfire coming from it because the windows in a vehicle parked next door to her house were shattered. She identified one of the men who was walking as Magee and said she saw him firing a handgun.
Asked how many shots she heard, Alina answered: "A lot."
She heard but she wasn't watching the battle. She said her first reaction was to grab her 8-year-old sister from the yard and try to get the younger children in the house. The 8-year-old's twin brother was already on the small front porch, Alina testified, and she crouched over them, trying to shield them with her body, as she tried to reach the door handle.
Her brother Juan heard the commotion from inside and ran to get the door. Alina said she saw Magee running back their way, taking cover behind cars and then: "Macho ended up pulling the door open, and he got shot in the middle of the forehead and it came out by his ear."
It happened so fast, she said, and her mother's boyfriend, who following Juan, managed to catch the wounded boy before his head hit the ground.
"I just remember my mom screaming," Alina said. While her mother ran to Juan, Alina got the twins into a bedroom and brought towels to the door. Her mother, Sonia Pagan, put them behind Juan's head.
"He was bleeding a lot," Alina said.
Sonia Pagan was one of five or six people to call 911 about the gunfight on Humason. The bullet that struck Juan wasn't fired by Magee. It came from a high-powered rifle and, after it hit the boy, it went through a couch and a wall, eventually lodging in the outside of the house next door.
Magee, 22, is accused of criminal possession of a weapon and first-degree assault for taking part in the gunfight. He previously turned down a plea deal that offered the chance of a lighter sentence if he told investigators who was shooting him.
Police were on the scene within minutes of receiving the 911 calls. Officer Michael Lehner testified Thursday that people on the street told him one of the gunmen – the man identified as Magee – was shot and had been driven away in a private car. Then, Lehner testified, people came up to him about someone else who was shot, a boy.
Lehner said that, when he got to Juan's house, "He was lying in the doorway. His mom was holding his head. Honestly, I thought he was dead. He wasn't moving."
As the fire rescue team arrived, Lehner said, he spoke to the distraught mother. "I asked her if she could get out of the way so they could help him, and she said no, she was holding his brains in," he said.
Juan survived and is recovering from his wound and must wear a protective helmet while waiting for his brain to heal. But, prosecutors said, he also can talk and walk a little, and if you meet him he will greet you with a big smile. "Juan has never stopped fighting, he never gave up," Assistant District Attorney Justin Wallens said in his opening statement for the trial.
Lehner and Lt. Michael Long, who also testified Thursday, believed they probably were investigating a homicide after seeing Juan's condition.
Then there was the question of a second, missing victim – Magee. Lehner said they found a blood trail leading up the street and into the backyard of 15 Humason. But both men also testified that they found no other victim and no weapon.
"You don't know if the person who left the blood trail had or gun or was a victim?," defense attorney Jeremy D. Schwartz asked, and Long said that, at that point, they didn't know.
Magee was located at St. Joseph Hospital, where he was being treated for a gunshot wound. He was driven there by Alexis Smith, who testified Thursday that she didn't know Magee but saw the injured man and his friend when she got lost in the neighborhood.
In his opening statement, prosecutor Wallens said that, unlike Juan, Magee was a willing participant in the gunfight that wounded him. "He saw the car, and he knew who it was," Wallens said. "He didn't run, he didn't hide ... he pulled out his gun and started shooting."
Schwartz, in his opening statement, agreed that June 29 was a tragic day for many people, including Magee and Juan Rodriguez. However, he postulated that the prosecution case is largely speculative and he questioned the observations of witnesses who were running for their own lives, or worried about their loved ones.
The trial is being heard without a jury by Judge Sheila A. DiTullio. Testimony will continue Friday.
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