Attorney shares how social media posts played a role in Columbus drive-by shooting trial
Vowing vengeance for the beating he got outside a Cusseta Road liquor store after a chance encounter with a rival gangster, Demartre Trevon Harris wounded two men and killed one in two Columbus drive-by shootings, a jury decided Monday.
The jury of eight women and four men deliberated about 2½ hours before delivering the verdict about 10:30 a.m. Monday, finding Harris guilty of three counts of aggravated assault and one count each of felony murder and using a gun to commit a crime.
The jury found him not guilty of malice or intentional murder, choosing instead to convict him of felony murder for killing Marcus Bowden while committing the felony of aggravated assault.
He shot Bowden multiple times outside a house at 2900 Cusseta Road on Nov. 24, 2015, four days after Harris was assaulted at the M&N liquor store across the street.
On Nov. 21, 2015, Harris, a member of the Bloods street gang, visited the 2821 Cusseta Road store with a girlfriend who went inside as three men came out. One of the three men was in the rival Crips gang, and recognized Harris, initiating an exchange that soon erupted into a brawl, with people running from the 2900 Cusseta Road house to join in the attack, investigators said.
“Mr. Harris was beaten up pretty badly, no question about that,” Senior Assistant District Attorney Don Kelly said after Monday’s verdict. Kelly prosecuted Harris with the help of Assistant District Attorney Veronica Hansis.
Store surveillance video recorded Harris’ assault, capturing images of the white 2001 Ford Explorer in which he was riding, and the girlfriend he was with, who wore a Piggly Wiggly uniform. The beating ended when the girlfriend came out of the store and screamed.
“We had video of that fight, and we knew that the people involved on one side of that fight were connected to this house where suddenly there are two shooting within less than 24 hours — three people shot, one person dead,” Kelly said. “Once we were able to identify the participants in the fight through the police work, then pretty quickly they knew who was responsible for this. It was the only possible motive that we knew of.”
The first drive-by shooting was on Nov. 23, 2015, when Laundon Alexander stopped by 2900 Cusseta Road and started talking to Patrick Boyd outside. Alexander heard squealing tires and gunshots, and saw a white SUV go by with someone firing from the rear passenger seat on the driver’s side.
Both he and Boyd were wounded in the thigh. Police called to the shooting collected .22-caliber and .40-caliber bullet casings.
Around 11:30 a.m. the next day, Bowden, who lived at 2900 Cusseta Road, dropped by to get some video games. Again a white SUV sped by, with someone firing from the backseat on the driver’s side. Shot in the abdomen with a .40 caliber, Bowden died about an hour later in the hospital. He was 30 years old.
One of the detectives later viewing the liquor store’s security video recognized Harris’ girlfriend, because the officer worked part-time at the same Piggly Wiggly store. When police contacted her, she identified Harris.
Checking Harris’ social media postings and messages, investigators saw he had gone online after his assault and vowed to retaliate, telling a friend that “Everybody dies,” and “The Bloods will be respected.”
That evidence explained the subsequent shootings, Kelly said:
“It was really more of a technical case in the sense of social media identifying who he was, his affiliation with a gang, why we would see this level of violence, because it was an extreme level of violence to have two shootings in less than 24 hours and have three people shot.”
Police never found the .40-caliber Springfield semi-automatic pistol they believe Harris used in the shootings, but they found ammunition and bullet casings with markings matching that brand and caliber, and Facebook postings in which Harris showed off a Springfield .40-caliber.
“I think they were a huge factor,” Kelly said of Harris’ Facebook postings. “I suspect that had a great impact on the jury, because that was his own words, him posting and saying that he owned this type of gun, and that he was going to get these people back.”
Investigators found no evidence that anyone Harris shot was involved in the assault that so provoked him, the prosecutor said.
Superior Court Judge Ben Land set Harris’ sentencing for 2 p.m. Thursday.
Harris faces life in prison, but not a mandatory sentence of life without parole, even though he may be designated a “recidivist” or repeat offender because of his criminal history, Kelly said.
“Because it’s a murder count, there’s some question about that,” Kelly said of a mandatory sentence. “Murder is specifically excluded from the ‘without parole’ recidivist statute.”
According to court records, Harris had these prior Columbus felony convictions:
- Auto theft on Jan. 24, 2011.
- Possession of marijuana with the intent to distribute it on Sept. 9, 2012.
- Possession of a firearm by a convicted felon on Oct. 4, 2013.
- Violating the Georgia Controlled Substances Act and being a convicted felon with a firearm on Feb. 13, 2015.
Represented by public defender Nancy Miller, Harris today is 26. He was 22 in February 2016 when police arrested him in the shootings, finding him barricaded in a house on Sentry Street in Columbus.
Besides his online postings, Harris’ involvement in the Bloods was evidenced by tattoos depicting a red, five-pointed star on his neck — a Blood’s symbol — and the Swahili word “damu,” meaning “blood,” over his right eye, Muscogee Sheriff’s Sgt. Jeremy Hattaway testified during the trial.
Hattaway, the sheriff’s gang expert, said Columbus has 43 active gangs, the largest one the Gangster Disciples. Others include the Crips, Bloods and Ghostface Gangsters, he said.