A bullet fired during a gun battle last summer entered Juan Rodriguez’s forehead, went through his brain and exited near his ear.
No one knew whether he would live to see his twelfth birthday, which was two days later.
He did turn 12, and a few days later he opened his eyes.
But Juan has done more than just survive. After 10 months of treatment and rehabilitation, Juan walked into a courtroom on his own two feet Friday.
His steps were a little halting, and his gait was affected by the one arm he still can’t use and the piece of his skull stored on his hip. But the 12-year-old reached the witness stand.
Then, setting his limp left hand on a Bible, Juan raised his good right arm and swore that he would tell the truth.
He testified in the trial of Detavion Magee. Investigators believe that Magee was involved in the gun battle that led to Juan’s getting hit by a stray bullet, but he was not the person who shot Juan.
Magee was shot in the chest that day and also recovered. The gunman who was trying to kill Magee accidentally shot Juan, prosecutors say.
He is accused of criminal possession of a weapon and first degree assault. Magee turned down a plea offer that hinged on naming the person shooting at him.
“How are you feeling, Juan?” Assistant District Attorney Eugene T. Partridge asked the Juan once he sat down.
“I’m feeling great, actually,” Juan answered, loudly and clearly.
Powerful words, considering Juan still wears his Captain America helmet wherever he goes to protect his head, which is healing.
He testified that he hopes to have surgery to replace the bone in his skull, so he can go to Darien Lake this summer.
“I want to go on the Brain Drain,” he said of a water thrill ride at the park. “It’s awesome.”
Partridge asked Juan about the day he was wounded.
Juan said he didn’t remember hearing any gunshots or opening the door so his sisters and brother could get inside when the shooting started. He was struck in the head almost as soon as he punched the door open.
But Juan said he remembered that the man his mother was dating was there that day, “and he was pretty cool.”
Juan said that he had made crackers with peanut butter and marshmallow fluff, for a snack, and the boyfriend pretended he didn’t like them.
“But when I turned my head, he ate them all,” Juan testified.
Just a few moments after that, according to earlier testimony from Juan’s sister, the boyfriend had followed Juan to the door and caught Juan as he was falling to the floor after he was shot.
Juan also remembered using a punching bag with his brother and going to the park that day.
But nothing after that until several days later.
“I remember that day I woke up in the hospital,” Juan said. “I didn’t know where I was.”
Juan was first treated at Erie County Medical Center before being moved to Women and Children’s Hospital. Already, the “old Juan” was coming back.
“I did activities there. I played Connect 4 with my friend Anthony. He’s a nurse,” Juan said. “He always thought he could beat me, but it never happened.”
Juan said he began walking on his own about a month ago. But he can’t go to regular school, because he still has the bone flap – the opening – on his head.
Although his was sitting in a courtroom with a judge, lawyers, the defendant and a gallery that coincidentally was full of high school students, Juan was unfazed.
“Are you afraid of anything?” Partridge asked the boy.
There was a long pause.
“It seems like you aren’t afraid of anything,” the prosecutor suggested.
“I’m still thinking,” Juan said.
Then, he said, “I am afraid of needles.”
He became tired of the needles, he said, because of all the punctures he had while in the hospital.
After Juan finished his testimony, prosecutors entered into evidence 15 shell casings and bullet fragments recovered on Humason Street after the gunfight June 29. The evidence suggested at least three weapons were involved, earlier witnesses had testified, including the high-powered rifle that fired the bullet that hit Juan.
The prosecution has rested its case.
Defense attorney Jeremy Schwartz said he would consult with Magee over the weekend on whether he will testify when the trial resumes Monday in Judge Sheila A. DiTullio’s courtroom.
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