The defense attorney of alleged Ladd-Peebles shooter Hezekiah Belfon is preparing to argue self-defense against the five charges of attempted murder against his client.
Belfon, now 20, appeared in a preliminary hearing on Tuesday morning in Mobile County District Court before Judge George Hardesty, accused of shooting and injuring two adults and three juveniles when he shot four times during the closing quarter of the Williamson-Vigor football game at Ladd-Peebles Stadium on Oct. 15, 2021. Four of those victims sustained minor injuries, one was critically injured.
Mobile Police Department (MPD) detective John Scroggins testified during the hearing that Belfon began shooting around 9:55 p.m. and four 9mm shells were discovered on the west stadium ramp exiting the field.
He said testimony and video surveillance show Belfon was in a group with co-defendant Jai Scott and a juvenile. He said the group left the stadium in the fourth quarter 15 minutes before the shooting. They obtained two firearms and returned to the game unencumbered.
Scroggins said the stadium has a posted no-weapon policy, armed security and MPD presence, and metal detectors are normally positioned at the stadium’s entrance through the end of football games. He said he did not know why those detectors had been removed early on Oct. 15.
Scroggins testified that Belfon’s group was walking out of the stands when a group of as many as 22 individuals rounded the corner and came after them. He said the large group was gang-affiliated but he had no knowledge of an established name. Four males at the front of the group began running toward Belfon’s group on the ramp and were in “very close proximity” when Belfon turned and began shooting. All four of those individuals were injured, including a fifth juvenile female who had been in the group behind them.
Scroggins said no one in the large group was armed and there is evidence that Scott and one of the adult victims, Jakobe Morgan, had a verbal altercation earlier in the game. He said MPD has not identified any of the other members of the group other than the victims. He testified two victims admitted they intended to fight Belfon’s group.
According to Scroggins, MPD quickly identified Belfon, also known as “Chop,” as the shooter through on-scene witnesses and tips. Scott was the first individual arrested following the shooting and the juvenile was apprehended shortly afterward. He said MPD’s intelligence unit determined Belfon had fled to Troy and had stayed at the residence of Reginald Todd, who played on the Trojan’s football team. Authorities recovered shaved braids and a Glock 19X at the residence, which were both determined to belong to Belfon. The gun was matched with the bullets at the scene at Ladd-Peebles.
Belfon was arrested in March in St. Johns County, Fla., during a routine traffic stop. Due to delays in extradition, Belfon was not in MPD’s custody until June.
Belfon is being represented by attorney Yancey Burnett of Daphne. Mobile County Assistant District Attorney Louis Walker is the prosecutor.
Burnett asked if MPD has collected any evidence from the members of the larger group, such as text messages or communications. Scroggins said they had not.
Burnett also asked if MPD was aware Belfon’s group had attempted to “tamp down” prior conflict earlier in the game and had moved 40 yards downfield in the stadiums to create distance. Scroggins said MPD was unaware of any previous circumstances other than Scott and Morgan arguing.
Judge Hardesty ended the hearing by finding probable cause to refer the case to a Mobile County grand jury to consider an indictment.
Following the hearing, Burnett said he was pleased with Scroggins’ testimony but said a grand jury will likely indict Belfon.
“You can indict a ham sandwich,” he said.
Burnett said he will be attempting to show Belfon acted in self-defense when he began shooting.
“There were two dozen guys there, and three or four people out front trying to attack him [Belfon],” he said. “He had no obligation to be beaten to death.”
Burnett said he has knowledge of the gang association of the rival group and said it was connected to a rapper, but could not speak publicly about it.
“They have an affiliation, they have an ongoing conflict, ongoing hostility, lots of threats and it is stunning to me that [police] don’t have any text messages,” he said.
Burnett said that from the onset of the case police and media ran with the narrative that Belfon was an aggressor.
“I really don’t understand why it’s my client’s obligation to be beaten by 20 guys,” he said. “I’m not really sure how impressed a jury is going to be when they argue he doesn’t have a right to defend himself.”
Burnett believes public pressure led to the state pursuing charges against his client.
ADA Walker told Lagniappe that a stand-your-ground argument in Belfon’s case is not applicable because Belfon was not allowed to be in possession of the firearm he used. He acknowledged Belfon is not facing firearm-related charges for possessing the gun at the stadium and said he was unaware of a criminal statute making it a crime to do so. He said Belfon could have been charged with carrying a concealed pistol without a permit; however, that is a misdemeanor and the state did not pursue that charge.
Belfon was originally charged with being in possession of a stolen firearm in addition to attempted murder. Walker told the court during the hearing that the charge has been dropped due to a lack of jurisdiction.
The October 2021 incident was the second shooting at Ladd-Peebles in three years. In 2019, DeAngelo Parnell, then 17, shot nine people during a LeFlore-Williamson game. A lack of witness cooperation in that case led prosecutors to cut a plea deal. Parnell was sentenced in April to two years in custody and three years probation.
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