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'No one was spared. No one was safe': Trial begins in Grape Street killings

'No one was spared. No one was safe': Trial begins in Grape Street killings

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yvette and kyrie combo Grape Street

Yvette Johnson and her grandson, Kyrie Johnson, were killed on July 2, 2018, when they were shot in front of the grandmother's home on Grape Street. (Provided photos)

He thought at first that the "pop pop" he heard was fireworks.

Then came a barrage of gunfire and Darren Works, holding his 16-month-old nephew in his arms, ran for cover on the side of his sister's house on Grape Street, he told a courtroom Thursday.

Works testified that he didn't realize until a few moments later that a bullet had shattered the little boy's skull, his sister was bleeding to death, his nephew was shot and that he himself had been shot twice in his leg.

A year and a half after a quadruple shooting left 54-year-old Yvette Johnson and her grandson, Kyrie, dead, Works, who is Yvette Johnson's brother and Kyrie's uncle, recounted in a Buffalo courtroom what happened on Grape Street early on the morning of July 2, 2018.

He was the first witness in the bench trial against Kenyatta Austin. He was indicted on two counts each of second-degree intentional murder; second-degree depraved indifference murder; second-degree assault; and one count each of first-degree reckless endangerment and second-degree criminal possession of a weapon.

The testimony came after Austin's attorneys asked for a delay in the trial, saying they had not had enough time to look at new evidence. That evidence includes an 8½-hour video of a witness being interviewed by police that attorney James Q. Auricchio said he received seven days ago. He told Erie County Court Judge Kenneth F. Case that video shows a retired Buffalo police detective coaching the witness – the detective's nephew who was was allegedly driving one of the cars carrying the shooters – to say he didn't know where they were heading when they went to Grape Street.

The night had started as a celebration, said Assistant District Attorney Ashley Morgan in opening statements.

The family was celebrating Yvette Johnson's 54th birthday, which was on July 1. They had a picnic that night at Martin Luther King Jr. Park and had driven around midnight to Johnson's house on Grape Street, at Best Street, across the street from the Johnnie B. Wiley Sports Pavilion, Morgan said.

That's when, prosecutors say, Austin and a second driver pulled up a block away on Peach Street. Austin and several other people are then accused of approaching from the bushes in the lot next to Johnson's house and opening fire with multiple guns.

"No one was spared," Morgan told Erie County Court Judge Kenneth F. Case. "No one was safe."

Just before the bullets started flying, Works, who was visiting from out of town, said he was standing outside his sister's house with his relatives on Grape Street. Kyrie's mother pulled up in a vehicle with the little boy. Yvette Johnson picked up the little boy, and Works grabbed him out of her arms.

"Give me my boo," Works said he told his sister, who playfully put her nose to the toddler's nose.

Works said he took the baseball cap he was wearing and put it on Kyrie's head, turning it backwards.

"I went to go reach for my cellphone," he testified, "to take a picture of him."

That's when the shooting began.

There were two "pops," Works said.

Someone yelled: "They're shooting!"

Holding onto the toddler, he ran for cover by a driveway next to Johnson's house then ran across the street.

Kyrie's mother ran to him. "Give me my baby!" she screamed.

"I started feeling my face was shot," Works said. He soon realized it was Kyrie's blood.

Works said he saw his sister lying on the street behind her car, bleeding profusely. His nephew, Devery Johnson, who also had been shot, was down by her side. "He was trying to put the blood back in her," Works testified, as a woman in the courtroom began sobbing.

As police and paramedics arrived at the scene, someone yelled to Works: "You've been shot." He said he was taken to Erie County Medical Center where he was treated and police interviewed him.

As the trial was set to begin, Austin's attorneys asked for the case to be adjourned – or even dismissed. Attorneys Robert Goldstein and Auricchio said they had not been given enough time to review evidence. They cited new criminal justice laws that went into effect Jan. 1 in New York  that dramatically speed up the amount of time prosecutors have to provide evidence following an arrest or indictment.

Auricchio argued that given the new rules, the defense should have more time to review evidence, including the video of the witness being interviewed. "We don't believe we've had sufficient time," he said.

Auricchio has reviewed the video, which he said has problems with audio quality, and asked to be able to view the original copy.

He said that during the interview, the retired police detective tells his nephew that there's "an easy out," and that he should say he has "no idea why he was driving over to the Fruit Belt," that night, Auricchio told Case. The witness later is heard on the video saying: "I kinda knew why we were going over there."

Assistant DA Colleen Curtin Gable, the chief of the DA's Homicide Bureau, responded that the defense seemed to be very familiar with the video and that the questions they are raising aren't directly related to Austin. "None of that changes the defendant's culpability," she said.

Case ruled that the prosecution could proceed with opening statements and put Works on the stand Thursday. The defense is scheduled to give its statements Monday.


Woman, 17-month-old grandson fatally shot on porch: 'A horrific, horrific crime'

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