Defense provides closing arguments in murder trial

At the conclusion of week eight of a triple murder trial, the defense presented closing statements on November 17.

Derek Turner, 31, is charged with first-degree murder while armed, unlawful possession of a firearm with prior convictions, possession of a firearm during a violent crime and conspiracy and Ronnika Jennings, 44, is charged with conspiracy and obstruction of justice in connection with the shooting death of 28-year-old Andrew McPhatter on March 5, 2017 at Block 3500 of Wheeler Road, SE.

The third defendant, 33-year-old Duan Hill, is also charged with conspiracy and obstruction.

Turner is also charged with first-degree murder while armed for the alleged shooting of 23-year-old Devin Hall on January 7, 2017 in the 3500 block of 6th Street, SE.

Turner defense attorney Michael Madden opened the day with his closing statement.

According to Madden, the young men of the Wheeler Park and Trenton Park neighborhoods, both of which are in southeast DC, have been embroiled in constant violent conflict. These conflicts included several other incidents of fatal and non-fatal shootings, including the shooting of Turner himself and the murder of his closest friend and alleged accomplice Antwan Jones, who is also Jennings’ cousin.

To emphasize this point, Madden again presented a music video showing a group of young men who he said were “celebrating violence Lord of the Flies style” singing along to a song with the words “in the parking lot”, while holding handguns.

Madden then contrasted this video with a separate clip of Turner and a friend mockingly singing along to the same song. He said these did little to connect Turner to the shootings in question, as the insults in these videos could apply equally to any group, neighborhood or individual.

Aside from the tenuous link to the neighborhood rivalry shown in the music videos, the prosecution’s case lacks direct evidence linking Turner to the crimes, Madden argued. There were no fingerprints, DNA evidence or surveillance footage placing him at the scene, and his GPS ankle monitor, a requirement of his parole for a separate felony, brought him home during the shooting.

Finally, he said it was a “leap of logic” that both Turner and Jennings were involved. While Jennings’ name ran through the Metropolitan Police Department’s (MPD) database, where she worked sometimes legally and sometimes illegally, Turner’s name could have been requested from an outside source and not of her own volition.

Jennings’ defense attorney, Russell Hairston, disagreed with that statement and filed a divorce petition, believing it harmed his client. A settlement request would allow Jennings a separate trial from Turner.

DC Superior Court Judge Marisa Demeo denied his request.

In his own conclusion, Hairston pointed to the prosecution’s tendency to direct the jury to use the word ‘conclusion’, which is inconsistent with unequivocal proof.

He also pointed out that Jennings did not print, photograph, or share the results of the unauthorized searches she conducted on the MPD database. She also willingly submitted to a polygraph test and the search and seizure of her personal cell phone when requested by homicide detectives.

According to Hairston, Jennings was more than cooperative as she wanted to keep her job.

Prosecutors began their rebuttal after Hill’s defense attorney presented his own closure.

Prosecutors outlined six separate shootings that had taken place between Trenton Park and Whaler Place. He then showed the jury a picture of Turner’s phone. In the photo, Turner is on FaceTime with a friend, who shows him a picture of a man who was in the hospital recovering from a gunshot wound. What other reason than having that photo on his cell phone as a “trophy photo,” the prosecution told the jury.

The trial is scheduled to resume on November 21, with prosecutors finishing their closing arguments and Judge Demeo preparing the jury for deliberation.

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