Trial began for two defendants in the murder of Wendy Fisher Jan. 14, nearly 18 months after the 40-year-old mother of two was gunned down in her neighbor’s front yard following a verbal altercation with a passerby.
As Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Wright said in opening arguments, Fisher yelled at the driver of a passing car to slow down in her residential neighborhood, but the driver stopped completely and began to shout at Fisher. Prosecutors believe Trayon Washington, a 17-year-old passenger in the car driven by Pat Brown, then exited the vehicle, pulled out a handgun and fired three shots at Fisher, one of which struck her in the chest. Both men are charged with murder in the case.
Working separately, defense attorneys for the two men argued that the prosecution’s case is not clear enough to implicate either one beyond a reasonable doubt. Upcoming testimony is expected to reveal that eyewitnesses on both sides of the incident provided several different accounts of Fisher’s death.
Brown’s attorney, Jason Darley, told jurors that the entire event was beyond his client’s control.
“You’re not going to hear from any witnesses that this was a planned event,” Darley said. “It was a terribly unfortunate event that took seconds to explode.”
Darley and Art Powell, the attorney for Washington, said the argument was prompted not by the defendants’ speed as they used Racine Avenue as a shortcut between Moffet and Overlook roads. Instead, the defense contends a confrontation began only after Fisher used a racial slur against them. Fisher was white, the defendants are black.
The state’s first witness was Robert Russo, Fisher’s live-in boyfriend at the time. The two shared the house at 5554 Racine Drive with Fisher’s two teenage children. Russo testified that he, Fisher and Fisher’s 15-year-old daughter Madeline were in the yard doing automotive work when their pet dogs got loose. As they heard a car speeding down the road, Russo said Fisher crossed the street to gather the dogs.
Russo said the car stopped and let Fisher and the dogs cross back, but that shouting ensued. Russo testified he could not hear what was said, but that it was obviously escalating. Contrary to a handwritten statement delivered just hours after the shooting, Russo testified that three car doors opened but he could only remember a single passenger exiting the vehicle.
Washington, who Russo instantly recognized in a photo lineup later, produced a silver pistol from his waistband. As he turned to run, Russo said he heard three shots and immediately after, Fisher screaming, “Baby! Baby! I’ve been shot.”
The car sped off.
“It was kind of surreal,” Russo said. “I remember looking down the barrel of the gun and seeing his face behind it and then I turned and ran to my left. I thought he was shooting at me, but that’s when I heard Wendy shouting.”
As tearful family members exited Judge Michael Youngpeter’s courtroom, Russo continued, saying he was trying to comfort Fisher while also watching “the life get sucked out of her.” Russo said Fisher’s last words were “I’m sorry,” as she spat up blood, her lips turned blue and her face became ashen.
“I’ll never forget it,” he said.
On cross examination, Powell had Russo admit both he and Fisher had been drinking lightly that Sunday and that Russo had changed his story about where in the car the shooter emerged. Originally, he said the shooter was in the backseat.
Two other passengers, Keonte Evans and Anstice White, were in the back of the Nissan Altima that day, and both testified Tuesday that Washington, who was in the front passenger seat, was the shooter. It was a change from their initial statements in which they didn’t finger anyone.
The court is also expected to hear from police officers and detectives who worked on the case, a forensic pathologist who found Fisher died from a single shot to her lung and Jeannie Nichols, a woman who allegedly traded the car to Washington in exchange for crack cocaine.
“This case is all about choices and decisions,” Wright told the jury. “Pat Brown made the decision to get behind the wheel, speed down Racine Avenue, stop the car and argue and then made choice to speed off and flee. Trayon’s choice was to arm himself, get in the Altima, open the door, step out, lean around, point a loaded gun and fire multiple times hitting Wendy Fisher. We’re going to ask you to hold both of these individuals responsible for their choices and decisions because they cost Wendy Fisher her life.”
The jury includes three black males, two black females, five white males and three white females. Deliberations are expected to conclude within the week.
Meanwhile, the DA’s office is also juggling two other murder trials this week. In Judge Ben Brooks’ courtroom, 23-year-old Kevin Guy is being tried for the beating and drowning death of 2-year-old Ladarius Lucas in 2011. Judge Roderick Stout is presiding over the murder trial of Willie Vance, Jr., who was charged with strangling his mother to death in 2012.