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Tyshawn Lee case: Witnesses reluctant to testify at murder trial of 2 accused of killing 9-year-old

Several who testified on the third day of the trial had spent weeks in jail for dodging prosecution subpoenas to take the stand at the high-profile Chicago gang-revenge trial.

A woman stops to pray at a memorial to Tyshawn Lee the day after the fourth-grader was gunned down.
A woman stops to pray at a memorial in the Auburn Gresham alley where 9-year-old Tyshawn Lee was shot to death. Two men are on trial this week for the fourth-grader’s murder.
Sun-Times files

An unseasonably warm day in the fall of 2015 drew a crowd of students from Ralph Ellison Charter High School to nearby Dawes Park the afternoon 9-year-old Tyshawn Lee was shot.

On Thursday, the third day of the trial of two men charged with luring Tyshawn into an alley near the park and killing him, prosecutors called three witnesses who attended the Auburn Gresham school.

Prosecutors have said the boy was targeted by Corey Morgan and Dwright Boone-Doty because the two murder defendants wanted to avenge the killing of Morgan’s brother weeks earlier.

On Thursday, prosecutors said each witness had shown reluctance to testify against defendants charged with assassinating a child.

The first witness, 18-year-old Jaylen Anderson, took the stand wearing an orange jail jumpsuit, having been locked up for more than three weeks ago for ignoring prosecutors’ subpoena from May. Anderson, who testified he saw Boone-Doty and Morgan in Dawes Park the day of the shooting — but only heard the gunshots — was one of four witnesses jailed ahead of the trial after prosecutors complained they ducked investigators.

Next came 18-year-old Earl Moore, a college student who was hauled out of his dorm room last month on a warrant for ignoring a subpoena. Moore spent nearly two weeks in a jail more than 600 miles from Chicago, then another week in the Cook County Jail before he was released last week on electronic monitoring, according to his lawyer April Preyar. Moore had identified Kevin Edwards — a co-defendant who earlier this month pleaded guilty to acting as the getaway driver for Morgan and Boone-Doty — in a photo lineup as a man he saw near the basketball court the day Tyshawn was shot. Moore will be allowed to return to school, though he remains under subpoena for the duration of the trial.

Moore had cooperated with investigators since he first spoke to police as a 14-year-old, Preyar said. Judge Thaddeus Wilson denied Preyar’s motion to have prosecutors sanctioned for filing an improper subpoena.

Witness Arianna Cross was the lone witness to testify Thursday who had not been arrested for defying prosecutors, but Assistant State’s Attorney Thomas Darman noted that in a meeting with him in July, she claimed she didn’t remember that she ever identified any witnesses when questioned by police in 2015. Thursday, she affirmed that she had picked Morgan’s mugshot out of a photo lineup, and admitted she had lied about not recalling her previous identification.

“Why did you tell me that?” Darman asked.

“Truly, I was nervous at the time,” Cross said.

In all, the testimony was a mixed bag for prosecutors, with Moore and Anderson offering slightly different accounts of their interactions with four older men at the park that day. None of the three were asked to point out either defendant in the courtroom, a relatively unusual omission for prosecution eyewitnesses. In a surprise move, Thursday, prosecutors also said they would not call a third witness who had been jailed in late August — and only was released on bond last Friday — without offering an explanation. A fourth witness who spent time locked up ahead of trial has yet to testify. The trial is scheduled to last another two weeks at least.