What began as a feud between rival teenagers erupted into a bloody gunfight on Mount Vernon Avenue this summer, leaving one victim dead and another permanently scarred. Shortly after the double shooting, prosecutors charged two brothers with the crime — handling their cases separately in two different murder trials this month. Last week, a jury found Marquis Byrd, 17, guilty of murdering Al-Rahn Powell, 18, and maliciously wounding Dennis Wise, 19. Earlier this month, a separate jury found Malik Byrd, 14, guilty of murdering Powell. Because both of the convicted murderers are minors, a circuit-court judge will sentence them separately in December.
“I think this case shows the importance of witnesses coming forward,” said Commonwealth’s Attorney S. Randolph Sengel. “Witness statements were key to putting together the events of this case.”
Court documents show that Marquis Byrd arrived on Mount Vernon Avenue with a loaded .45-caliber semiautomatic pistol on July 29. He had already handed his 14-year-old brother a loaded .32-caliber revolver when they engaged in a dispute with two rival teenagers — one of whom had punched Marquis Byrd in the face two years ago. The ongoing rivalry festered into an anger that turned deadly when the Byrd brothers took up arms to protect themselves.
“They were trash talking us,” Wise testified. “So we were trash talking them.”
ACCORDING TO TESTIMONY from both trials, Malik Byrd shot Powell once in the head and Marquis Byrd shot Wise twice in the legs. Defense attorneys for the Byrd brothers tried to argue that they were carrying loaded weapons in an effort to defend themselves against teenagers whom they perceived as a threat — a theory of defense that described the shootings as an accident that was brought about by the aggressive behavior of Powell and Wise.
“They were circling on their bicycles in a threatening manner,” said Gary Smith, Marquis Byrd’s defense attorney. “And they were much bigger and stronger.”
“This was a fight that got out of control,” said Douglas Steinberg, Malik Byrd’s defense attorney. “The firearms were used in a defensive manner.”
But members of the two juries didn’t buy either of their arguments. Malik Byrd’s jury met for about six hours before deciding on a conviction, and Marquis Byrd’s jury conferred for about 12 hours before convicting him as an accomplice to the murder. Prosecutors used witness statements, forensic evidence and an audiotape of Marquis Byrd laughing about the crime to persuade jurors to find the two brothers guilty.
“They were locked, loaded and ready,” said Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Shelby Hadfield. “All Al-Rahn wanted was a haircut. But instead he got a bullet to the head.”
POWELL’S FAMILY members attended both the trials, enduring hours of testimony and legal procedures. They remembered the slain teenager as an active teenager with an interest in fishing, basketball and auto mechanics — being especially fond of the Buick Impala.
“He did not like guns,” said Nannie Powell, his grandmother. “We couldn't even get him a cap gun for Christmas because he didn’t want one.”
During a break in one of the trials, Powell’s mother was dismissive of the theory that the Byrd brothers might need loaded pistols as a protection against her son.
“It seems pretty far fetched to me,” said Cordessa Powell.