The cousin of homicide victim Joshua Hayes admitted on the witness stand Thursday that Hayes was looking for trouble when he and four cousins followed Edward E. Nickens to his home May 16.
The testimony of Michael Hayes was the highlight of the fourth day of Nickens' trial in Niagara County Court on a second-degree murder charge.
Joshua Hayes, 23, was shot in the face after exiting a sport utility vehicle in front of Nickens' home on Michigan Avenue in Niagara Falls about 3 a.m. May 16.
Joshua Hayes and four of his cousins, including Michael, who lived with Joshua on Whitney Avenue in the Falls, were inside the Ford Explorer.
Other witnesses have testified to at least three previous altercations involving Joshua Hayes and the identical twin Nickens brothers, Edward and Raymond C., 32.
Early May 16, after the five cousins left a bar, they were on the way to a private party when they spotted a car driven by one of the Nickens twins.
Michael Hayes testified, "Somebody in the car said, 'Follow him.' "
When they arrived at Michigan Avenue, Michael recalled, "Joshua said, 'Everybody get out.' "
Deputy District Attorney Doreen M. Hoffmann asked, "What were you getting out for?"
"To beat up the twins," Michael Hayes answered.
Later, defense attorney Frank LoTempio III asked, "So it was your intention to commit a gang assault?"
Michael answered, "That's what you all call it, a gang assault? We just call it a beatdown."
But the beatdown was forestalled by a shootdown.
"As soon as I hopped out [of the SUV], that's when I heard the gunshot, so I basically ran," Michael Hayes said. "I saw one of the twins holding the gun. I didn't see Joshua at that point. I thought he ran."
He said he saw a Nickens twin with no lip ring 20 to 25 feet away before the shooting, a statement he later amended to "a car length [away]."
Raymond Nickens customarily wears a lip ring and Edward doesn't, several witnesses have said. It's been called the easiest way to tell them apart.
Michael returned to the scene a few minutes later. A tape of his 911 call was played for the jury.
"There's somebody laying in the street over here on Michigan and I just heard a gunshot," Michael told the dispatcher. The dispatcher asked, "Did somebody take off?"
"No, I'm seeing somebody laying on the ground," Michael replied.
He testified he didn't tell the dispatcher the full story because he was scared. "A lot of stuff was going through my mind," Michael said.
Erie County Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Dianne Vertes said Joshua Hayes was shot just to the left of his nose, and she removed the bullet from behind his right ear at the autopsy.
She said she saw no evidence of a close-range shooting, contradicting the account of Hayes' cousin Demetrious Hayes, who testified Wednesday that Joshua was shot from less than two feet away. Vertes said the bullet was fired at a downward angle.