Man charged in Durham birthday party shooting says he is wrongfully accused

A man released from jail in January after a judge said prosecutors had a weak murder case against him now says he is wrongfully accused in a birthday party shooting and robbery this month.

Police say four people were shot at Valley Terrace Apartments on Chapel Hill Road on Saturday night. Officers who responded found Ledarius Samuel, 20, being “detained” by people at party and then charged him in the case.

But Samuel says he was attempting to visit relatives at the apartment complex when he was grabbed from behind, beaten and had his hands tied with a rope.

“The situation I am accused of I know I didn’t do,” Samuel said Wednesday during an interview in the library of the Durham County jail. Samuel’s face was still swollen and bruised from the beating.

Samuel said he doesn’t know or recognize Antoine Page, a 17-year-old who also faces charges, including conspiring with Samuel. Page was taken to the hospital that night after being shot.

Samuel was charged with robbery with a deadly weapon, conspiracy to commit robbery with a deadly weapon and possession of a firearm by a felon. He is being held under $1.5 million bail.

Police haven’t charged Samuel or Page with assault with a deadly weapon, the typical charge in non-fatal shootings.

Durham police spokesman Wil Glenn didn’t respond to questions about Samuel’s claim that he was not involved.

“The investigation of this case is ongoing,” Glenn wrote in an email.

Samuel’s attorney, Allyn Sharp, said none of the items stolen during the robbery were found on Samuel. She said police told her they found a gun near her client.

Samuel’s cellphone was taken from him that night, Sharp said, and she wants police to charge the men responsible for the beating.

Sharp said Samuel’s charges are representative of a larger issue in which police sometimes make assumptions about young black men, especially when they have criminal convictions.

“I think often times there is this rush to judgment on the part of law enforcement, people are charged before a situation has been fully investigated,” Sharp said. “My concern is that may have happened here.”

Samuel was convicted in 2016 of conspiracy to commit robbery with a dangerous weapon.

Samuel was charged with murder in connection with a fatal shooting on Jan. 12, 2017, in the 2500 block of South Roxboro Street. Police found Felipe Aleman Perez, 42, of Durham dead. His son, Jesus Aguirre, then 18, was also shot.

Police don’t think Samuel was the shooter, but they believe he was one of at least two people involved in the deadly robbery.

Samuel and four other men charged with unrelated homicides were released from jail in January 2018 after a judge unsecured their bonds, saying prosecutors had weak cases against them.

Samuel was arrested again March 7, two days after The Herald-Sun and The News & Observer reported on his release and the release of the other four men. He was charged with breaking and entering a home, possession of a firearm by a felon and carrying a concealed weapon.

All of the charges were dismissed by Durham County District Attorney Roger Echols by March 27 after Samuel and his attorney successfully argued there was not enough evidence for the case to move forward .

On the night of the party this month, Samuel said he stopped at the apartment complex to borrow money from his grandmother who lives there. She didn’t answer the door, Samuel said, and he saw five or six people running to a car that sped away.

As he walked to his aunt’s apartment, he said, someone grabbed him from behind.

“I just see a beer bottle come down on my face,” he said.

Samuel said he woke up with his hands tied and several people were hitting him with their hands, feet and beer bottles. He was taken to the hospital and later to jail.

A food-sale fundraiser will be held Saturday for the three party-goers who were shot. The event will be held at Monarcas Car Audio from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at 819 N. Miami Boulevard in Durham.

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Virginia Bridges covers criminal justice in Orange and Durham counties for The Herald-Sun and The News & Observer. She has worked for newspapers for more than 15 years. In 2017, the N.C. Press Association awarded her first place for beat feature reporting. The N.C. State Bar Association awarded her the 2018 Media & Law Award for Best Series.