WILMINGTON, Delaware — A shooting at a soccer tournament that left three people dead in 2012 was carried out by gang members seeking to avenge the killing of a friend earlier that day and to silence a witness to a 2008 murder, a prosecutor said as a murder trial opened Monday.
"Revenge, retaliation, elimination," deputy attorney general Ipek Medford told jurors as she began an 80-minute opening statement in the trial of Jeffrey Phillips, 23, and Otis Phillips, 38.
The two men, who are not related, are charged with first-degree murder in the deaths of soccer tournament organizer Herman Curry, 47, and Alexander Kamara, a 16-year-old player. The two defendants have pleaded not guilty to charges including murder and participating in a criminal street gang. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.
"The state is going to try to portray him as a member of a criminal gang, and he's not," said Michael Heyden, an attorney representing Otis Phillips.
Heyden and defense attorney Kevin O'Connell, representing Jeffrey Phillips, advised jurors to be wary of testimony from purported members of the Sure Shots street gang, three of whom were given probation after pleading guilty to participating in a gang and agreeing to testify against Otis and Jeffrey Phillips.
"There might be reason to doubt what they say," O'Connell said of the prosecution witnesses.
Medford said that at the time of the soccer shootings at Wilmington's Eden Park in July 2012, Otis Phillips was wanted in the killing of Christopher Palmer, a friend of Curry. Palmer was shot in 2008 at a club where a birthday party for Curry was being held. Authorities say Curry, who frantically called 911 after Palmer was shot, identified Otis Phillips as the shooter.
Medford said Otis Phillips dropped out of sight after the 2008 killing but resurfaced at Eden Park, where she said witnesses saw him walk up to Curry, tap him on the shoulder, then shoot him three times after he turned around.
Medford said Otis and Jeffrey Phillips then began spraying bullets as they tried to flee. Kamara died from a single gunshot to the head. Spectators in the crowd then returned fire as the gunmen fled.
The two suspects were found hiding in a nearby backyard, with Jeffrey Phillips suffering from a gunshot found in the leg, after the car in which they were riding crashed. Sheldon Ogle, 43, a cousin of Otis Phillips, was found fatally shot in the driver's seat of the car after being hit by gunfire from spectators, according to authorities. Inside the vehicle, investigators found two handguns that Medford said are tied to both the soccer shootings and to bullet casings found after a shooting earlier that day at a graduation party hosted by a Jamaican family at an unlicensed dance club in downtown Wilmington.
Kirt Williams, 28, who Medford said was a close friend of Jeffrey Phillips and the brother of Otis Phillips' girlfriend, died of a shotgun blast in the dance club shooting. Medford said the Sure Shots then went gunning for Curry, a member of Wilmington's Jamaican immigrant community.
"The Sure Shots were preparing for war," she said.
In addition to the deaths of Curry and Kamara, Otis Phillips also is being tried for murder in Palmer's killing. Prosecutors began their case by calling police officers who responded to the 2008 shooting. Testimony about the soccer field shootings is expected to begin later this week.