Attention Focuses On Aiyana Stanley-Jones' Grandma On Day 1 Of Cop's Trial
The mother of the 7-year-old girl killed during a police raid three years ago testified Monday the girl’s grandmother told her she wasn’t able to see what happened the night Aiyana Stanley-Jones died of a gunshot to the head.
The grandmother, Mertilla Jones, did not take the stand Monday, but she will be an important witness in the trial of Detroit Police Officer Joseph Weekley. Jones slept on a couch with Aiyana in the living room of her home on Lillibridge Street the night Weekley, brandishing a shield and submachine gun, led a SWAT team through the door as a stun grenade detonated nearby.
Weekley, 37, is charged with felony involuntary manslaughter and careless discharge of a firearm causing death. Both the prosecution and defense agree the shot that killed Aiyana, from Weekley’s weapon, was an accident, but Assistant Prosecutor Robert Moran said in his opening statement Weekley was grossly negligent.
The trial will once again spotlight Detroit’s violence, poverty, culture of crime, police tactics and civic dysfunction – the street lights were out the night of the raid, which was conducted to arrest a murder suspect as a TV crew from the A&E reality show “The First 48” stood by, cameras rolling.
The death of Aiyana attracted national attention. Al Sharpton, the New York-based minister, activist and TV commentator, spoke at her funeral.
On Monday, Aiyana’s mother, Dominika Stanley, became so emotional on the stand that she had to step down and regain her composure outside the courtroom. Weekley, who is small in stature and young-looking, took in the day's testimony stoically.
Stanley was the first witness called as the trial opened before Wayne County Circuit Judge Cynthia Gray Hathaway.
Stanley was questioned closely by defense attorney Steve Fishman about what Aiyana’s grandmother – Mertilla Jones – had told her about what Mertilla saw during the raid.
Mertilla Jones was the only occupant of the home – other than Aiyana – in the living room that night, and her story already has changed more than once, according to Fishman.
He told jurors Mertilla Jones once said the shot came as cops entered the home. Then she said Weekley pointed the gun at Aiyana's head and pulled the trigger. She also has said the shot came from outside, through a window.
Moran acknowledged Mertilla Jones has told different versions. But he reminded the jury of the chaotic circumstances of the raid and recalled cops took her into custody after she watched her granddaughter shot.
Mertilla Jones also once said Weekley did not look remorseful, Fishman said. Weekley was actually despondent and vomited outside the house after the raid, according to Fishman.
"You decide what was in his mind at the time," Fishman told the jury members, who include nine men, four women and only one African American, a man who appears to be in his 40s.
Fishman said a major question for the jurors will be: Are they convinced on the testimony of the grandmother?
Fishman told the jury what caused the shot was Mertilla Jones reacting after the flash grenade blew up and hit Weekley’s gun.
"He pulls back and his hand hits the trigger," Fishman told the jurors in his opening statement. "That's not negligence...This was a tragic accident."
Dominika Stanley testified she was asleep in a back bedroom with her partner, Charles Jones, the father of Aiyana. Speaking while trying to hold back tears, she said she was awakened by Mertilla Jones screaming that Aiyana had been killed.
Stanley said she got out of bed after collecting her thoughts, and when she entered the living room, Aiyana was gone and police told her and Charles Jones to sit on the bloody couch on which Aiyana and Mertilla Jones had been sleeping.
Despite what she said about hearing Mertilla Jones’ scream, Stanley said she didn’t know Aiyana was killed for at least a couple of hours, while she and Charles Jones were forced to remain on the couch, after which police took them to St. John Hospital, where a doctor told her “my baby didn’t make it.”
The raid was conducted to find Chauncey Owens, the boyfriend of Aiyana's aunt, who was sought in connection with the murder of 17-year-old Je’Rean Blake, a student at Southeastern High School who reportedly had disrespected Owens at a local party store two days before the raid.
Owens, said to have had a previous criminal record, is waiting trial, as is Charles Jones, Aiyana’s father, who has been charged with giving Owens the gun Owens allegedly used to kill Blake.
Dominika Stanley testified that she never saw guns around the home in which her daughter was killed and wasn’t aware Owens, whom she knew, was being sought in the killing of Blake.
Prosecutor Moran described the SWAT unit – called the Special Response Team – as an elite Detroit police squad of volunteers who receive several hundred hours of special training.
Owens was arrested that night after the raid, but he was not in Mertilla Jones’ downstairs portion of the two-story flat where raid took place. He was in the upstairs residence.
Allison Howard, a Boston resident who was a videographer with the TV show, faces trial later this summer on charges of lying under oath and obstruction of justice. She is charged with lying before a grand jury.
The trial, which is expected to last up to two weeks, has attracted considerable media attention. Judge Hathaway said she has tried to accommodate journalists, but after Monday’s session she announced she was banning Fox 2 cameras from the rest of the proceedings because, she said, the station had shown jurors, a violation of her court rules.