The trial of a reputed gang member accused of fatally shooting a young mother last fall had an unusual start Thursday when a juror was dismissed after she received a phone call at home from a known gang member.
Ramsey County District Judge Judith Tilsen said she wasn’t sure if it was related to the trial of Joseph H. Campbell, 20, whom police identify as a member of the East Side Boyz gang, but it highlighted the tense, violent nature of the case and long-running gang feud that may have led to the murder of Naressa Turner.
Campbell is charged with shooting Turner, 20, on the afternoon of Oct. 14, 2012, as she sat in the front passenger seat of an SUV parked in an alley in the 900 block of Reaney Avenue in St. Paul.
Police said she is the most recent casualty in a violent feud between the East Side Boyz and the Selby Siders, gangs that are responsible for “numerous murders in recent years … motivated by retaliation.”
Turner was killed after rumors spread on social media that she set up the February 2012 murder of Dominic Neeley, whom police identify as an East Side Boyz member.
Wayne Akis, one of the last people to see Turner alive, dodged questions and talked back under questioning by assistant county attorney David Miller and cross-examination by defense attorney Murad Mohammad.
Akis said he is dating Turner’s sister. He testified that he drove the SUV into the alley to buy marijuana and witnessed someone wearing a “scary clown mask” open the back passenger door and shoot Turner.
“I mean, I know people from the East Side,” Akis said when Miller asked about his knowledge of gang members. “I don’t know what gangs they in.”
“I heard he was East Side” Boyz, Miller said, also pushing Akis about a friend, Charles E. Perry, who was sitting in the back seat behind Turner when she was killed.
Akis also said that he saw a blue Charger drive down the alley minutes before the shooting, and that he gestured at it with his hand in the shape of a gun because he knew the owner and was “just playing.”
Miller made Akis read a transcript from an earlier interview in which Akis said he saw someone in the Charger wearing a mask, but Akis tried to recant that statement Thursday and imply that the prosecution crafted it.
“That’s what you said,” a frustrated Miller said.
The Charger plays an important role. Assistant county attorney Elizabeth Lamin told the jury of 11 men and 3 women in opening statements that Campbell was in the car.
Mohammad seized on the potential for discrepancies, warning the members of the jury that they would see a “revolving door” of testimony by witnesses who changed their stories.
“All we have are loose connections of several people who could be the shooter,” Mohammad said in opening statements.
Mohammad told jurors that multiple people at the scene, including people in a second car parked next to the SUV, fled and didn’t stop to help Turner or talk to police. He asked Akis why he didn’t talk to cops, even though he later returned to the crime scene.
“I didn’t know nothing,” Akis said. “What was I supposed to do?”
Akis’ friend Lamar Hale was driving the car parked next to the SUV. Hale testified that he saw a light-skinned black male shooting at Turner, having seen the skin tone through the eye holes of the mask. Campbell is dark complected.
Hale testified that Perry swatted at the shooter’s arm and that Turner didn’t understand the seriousness of the situation.
“She didn’t think it was real,” said Hale, who was sitting in his car 4 to 5 feet away. “She was sitting there like, ‘Stop pointing. Stop pointing.’ ”
Testimony continues Friday.