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Defense: Alleged Killer Was Present, Not Responsible
January 7, 2019
WILKES-BARRE — Attorneys on Monday did not dispute that Antoine McNeal showed up in Nanticoke on Jan. 18, 2017, to buy marijuana from his acquaintance and co-worker Brandon Smith.
The question put to jurors was whether McNeal then murdered Smith in a drug robbery — or whether he was merely in the wrong place at the wrong time.
“He did in fact rob and kill Brandon Smith,” Assistant District Attorney Thomas Hogans told the jury during opening statements.
But defense attorney Demetrius Fannick said jurors had to look only at Smith’s own dying words to know McNeal wasn’t to blame.
“(Smith) told them it wasn’t (McNeal),” Fannick said.
McNeal, 34, is accused of setting up a meeting to buy $500 worth of marijuana from Smith and then shooting him dead during a drug robbery outside his West Church Street, Nanticoke, home.
During opening statements, Hogans described a wealth of evidence the prosecution will present to jurors, including McNeal’s own cellphone — which was recovered at the crime scene covered in Smith’s blood.
The shooting took place outside Smith’s home after he received a text from McNeal’s cellphone indicating he had arrived for the drug deal, Hogans said. A couple minutes after Smith’s mother saw him walk out the door, Smith ran back in mortally wounded, he said.
“They shot me,” Hogans quoted Smith as saying. “I’m sorry. I don’t want to die.”
Smith died of two gunshot wounds to the chest that forensic testing determined were fired from the same revolver, Hogans said.
At the place of the shooting — inside a van parked outside of Smith’s house — police found Smith’s blood, two bags of marijuana and two of Smith’s cellphones, he said. They also found a Samsung Galaxy S5 with Smith’s blood on it, he said.
“That phone itself belonged to the defendant, Antoine McNeal,” Hogan said.
Cellphone records police seized show that within an hour of the shooting, someone changed the phone’s number, he said. And McNeal’s girlfriend, who admitted driving him to meet Smith for the drug deal, also told investigators she brought him back to the scene of the shooting to search for the phone while repeatedly dialing the number, he said.
“That’s where those calls took place,” Hogans said.
But while the prosecution argued such evidence would show McNeal committed the crime, the defense seized on Smith’s dying words, arguing they prove that McNeal is not guilty.
Fannick told jurors that McNeal and Smith worked together — sometimes on the same shift — and knew each other well.
“Mr. Smith knew Antoine McNeal. Antoine McNeal knew Mr. Smith. They knew each other,” Fannick said.
Yet despite being shot at close range outside his home, Smith, in his dying words to his mother and stepfather, did not identify McNeal as his killer, he said.
“He says, ‘They shot me.’ He doesn’t say, ‘Antoine shot me.’ He doesn’t say, ‘P shot me.’ He doesn’t say, ‘My friend from (work) shot me.’ He says, ‘They shot me,’” Fannick said. “It was his dying declaration to tell them who shot him, and he did not say Antoine McNeal, who by their theory would have been a few feet away from him.”
Fannick acknowledged that McNeal did in fact arrive at Smith’s home that night to buy marijuana, but said McNeal’s girlfriend will testify that after the shooting McNeal ran back to the car indicating someone else had been doing the shooting.
“They are shooting. We need to get out of here,” Fannick quoted McNeal as telling his girlfriend.
The trial is expected to last through the week.
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