After four boys were caught in a barrage of 10 gunshots on the footbridge over the Kensington Expressway last Aug. 12, police had no immediate suspects.
The teens were playing basketball at Roosevelt Park before they headed over the bridge to watch a fight a couple of girls were having behind Langfield Homes, and they weren’t in any trouble.
Nothing explained why someone would shoot 14-year-old Raymond Floyd Patterson III in the back, or fire at Ray’s brother and two friends. Ray died on the bridge that day; the other boys, less severely injured, said later that they ran because they heard gunfire. They never saw who was shooting.
But other people who were there that day did see the man with the gun, and some of them came forward. Among them was a person who captured the events leading up to the shooting with a cellphone.
“Without that cellphone video, I don’t think this case would have been solved,” said Assistant District Attorney Colleen Curtin Gable, who prosecuted the case for the past two weeks before an Erie County Court jury.
The video enabled police to identify Joseph P. Gant, 29, who was found guilty Thursday of second-degree murder in Ray Patterson’s death and of three counts of attempted murder in the shooting of Ray’s brother, Dae’Mone, 13; Austin Neal, 16; and Ned Rainey Jr., 13.
Gant also was convicted of criminal possession of a weapon, although the gun used in the shootings has not been found.
Investigators were able to find Gant, however, by piecing together statements from witnesses who were at the fight or came out of their homes to see what was going on.
The phone video shows the girl fight, not the shooting, but as the image pans around, it comes across Gant, wearing a distinctive black Adidas jacket and taking his own cellphone video of the fight.
He matches the description of the guy with the gun that people saw shooting toward the footbridge while everybody else ran away.
Once investigators had a face, they quickly came up with an identification, and they located their suspect the day after the shootings. He was arrested early on Aug. 14.
Gant, 29, of Marigold Avenue, has been in custody ever since.
After the verdict, Gable spoke up about her witnesses, whom defense attorneys at times during the trial tried to characterize as gang members or part of a “crew.”
“These were good people from the community who helped solve this case,” Gable said. “They came forward initially and were willing to testify.”
District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III concurred and added that community assistance “is the lifeblood of many of our cases.”
Sedita also remarked on the contention by Gant’s attorneys, Samuel P. Davis and Anthony Pendergrass, that their client may have fired in self-defense after being jumped by a group of men and boys who also were watching the first fight.
Some witnesses did say that they saw Gant being punched and kicked by other people before he pulled his gun, although none of those attackers were the boys who were shot.
“It would be absurd to say four people were shot in self-defense,” Sedita said bluntly.
Jurors deliberated for about eight hours before they reached their verdict, agreeing on the more serious charges against Gant rather than the lesser offenses of reckless murder and second-degree assault.
Judge Michael L. D’Amico set sentencing for July 27.
Gant, who according to prosecutors has no previous criminal record other than one minor offense, faces a possible 25 years to life in prison on the murder conviction and up to 25 years for each of the three counts of attempted murder.