Two men claim self-defense in fatal 2017 shooting at alleged Columbus ‘trap house’

Two men on trial for murder in a 2017 fatal shooting in north Columbus are claiming self-defense, alleging the victim tried to rob them at gunpoint before he was shot.

Thomas Joseph “T.J.” Meade and Andrew Joshua Scarborough are charged in the Oct. 24, 2017, death of 19-year-old Dieondre Murphy, who prosecutors said was shot in a “trap house” where people gather to do drugs. The house was in the 1200 block of 41st Street, close to the Young Avenue intersection.

Meade at the time was 25 years old. Scarborough was only 16.

Their attorneys claim the two were among several people inside the house around 1 a.m. when Murphy and two cohorts showed up, all wearing black. Murphy told them he had a gun to sell, and they went to a rear bedroom to negotiate, the defense attorneys said.

They were discussing the sale when Murphy abruptly pointed the gun at them and said “Empty your pockets,” defense attorney Anthony Johnson told jurors Wednesday during his opening statement. Johnson represents Meade.

Susan Henderson, who represents Scarborough, said Murphy hit Scarborough with the weapon, and it went off, sending a bullet through a wall. The defendants also claimed that at one point Murphy pointed the gun at Meade and pulled the trigger, but the firearm only clicked.

Murphy then grabbed a second gun from one of his companions and pointed both weapons at Meade and Scarborough, Henderson said. That’s when Scarborough pulled his own pistol and started shooting, she said.

“You’ve got to imagine the chaos of this moment,” she told jurors. Everyone got up and ran from the house.

Murphy ran out the back door and collapsed on Young Avenue, shot five times. A witness reported seeing others gather around him, with one saying, “Get his gun” before one of the people took something from the wounded man, said prosecutor Al Whitaker.

Police were called to reports of someone shot at 1:55 a.m. Murphy died at the hospital at 4:04 a.m.

Whitaker said Meade and Scarborough tried to rob Murphy, rather than the other way around. Though Scarborough is alleged to have shot Murphy, Meade likewise was charged because he set up the meeting, the prosecutor said.

He said four .22-caliber bullets were recovered from Murphy’s body. In his pockets police found a clip or magazine for a 9-millimeter semi-automatic pistol.

Inside the house, police found empty shell casings, marijuana and methamphetamine, Whitaker said. Henderson said toxicology tests from Murphy’s autopsy showed he had used both drugs.

Both the prosecutor and the defense attorneys warned jurors they would hear varying accounts of what happened. Henderson said the testimony would be “all over the place.”

An eyewitness, Adam Daniel, testified Wednesday that he was in the rear bedroom, sitting on the bed, when Murphy pointed a gun at Meade and said, “Give me all your s—t.” Scarborough, who had been in another room, came up behind Murphy and shot him, giving no warning before pulling the trigger, Daniel said.

Besides murder, both Meade and Scarborough are charged with armed robbery and aggravated assault. Scarborough is accused also of using a gun to commit a felony.

The trial resumes Thursday in Judge Gil McBride’s Government Center courtroom.

Tim Chitwood is from Seale, Ala., and started as a police beat reporter with the Ledger-Enquirer in 1982. He since has covered Columbus’ serial killings and other homicides, following some from the scene of the crime to trial verdicts and ensuing appeals. He also has been a Ledger-Enquirer humor columnist since 1987. He’s a graduate of Auburn University, and started out working for the weekly Phenix Citizen in Phenix City, Ala.