Candlelight prayer at Trinity Court
On Christmas Day 2015, Ramone Jamarr Alston drove down the short, skinny driveway that leads to Trinity Court apartments in Chapel Hill.
Someone jumped out of the car and opened fire on several families enjoying an unseasonably warm December evening, witnesses said.
One of the bullets hit 1-year-old Maleah William as her mother held her in her arms.
She died in the hospital three days later.
“This is a tragic case of a cycle of violence that didn’t end until it took the life of the most innocent person,” said Orange County Assistant District Attorney Jeff Nieman.
On Friday morning, attorneys presented opening arguments and testimony began in the case, in which Alston, 24, was one of three Chapel Hill men charged with first-degree murder and discharging a weapon into an occupied property.
Pierre Je Bron Moore, 25, also faces those charges, but prosecutors in 2016 dismissed charges against the third man, Shaquille Oneill Davis.
Alston's trial is expected to take two to four weeks, court officials said.
Money and marijuana
Attorneys from both sides outlined a case in which no one appears to be disputing Alston was driving the car.
Instead the questions appear to center on whether he also shot into the crowd, whether there was a plan to seek revenge against someone in or near the crowd and Alston’s role in the shooting.
Nieman laid out a scenario in which an incident involving Davis and Jaylen McNair earlier that day led to the shooting.
Around noon, he said, the men got into a fight at Trinity Court, a 40-unit public housing community off North Pritchard Avenue. The fight ended with McNair taking money and marijuana from Davis, the prosecutor said.
“[Davis] left, and said, ‘I am coming back,’ ” Nieman said.
Davis went to a nearby apartment complex, met up with Alston, Moore and another individual, Nieman said.
“You will hear, at that point, they had a conversation and a plan was made to go back to Trinity Court to get Jaylen McNair,” Nieman said.
Alston also believed then that McNair was one of the men responsible for breaking into Alston’s home three times in June 2014, threatening him and his family, Nieman said.
“It had been a year and a half, and he had not forgotten about that,” Nieman said.
On Christmas Day 2016, Alston got in his car with Moore and drove to Trinity Court apartments, Nieman said.
Around 5:45 p.m. he drove in front of the apartments as about 20 people, including eight children, gathered outside as darkness started to fall, Nieman said.
Alston drove to the end of the road, turned around, and slowly returned to the entrance to the apartments were McNeil was, Nieman said. He stopped the car, and Moore got out and opened fire, Nieman said.
“One of the bullets tore through the head of Maleah Williams, who was in her mother’s arms,” Nieman said.
The evidence will also show Alston opened his door, got out and opened fire too, before speeding away, Nieman said.
The evidence will also show that three months before the shooting there was a break-in off Piney Mountain Road in Chapel Hill and some firearms were taken, which ended in the hands of Alston and Moore, Nieman said.
'Really pay attention'
Alston’s attorney, Jonathan Trapp, pointed out that Alston is presumed innocent, and regardless of whether anything is in dispute, all the elements of the charges have to be proven by prosecutors.
There will not be any evidence of the actual guns used, Trapp said. The shell casings found at the apartments weren’t linked to Alston through fingerprint and DNA tests, he said. The evidence also indicates that the shell casing came from the same gun, Trapp said.
The evidence and testimony will show that someone jumped out of the passenger side of the car “while it was still in motion and fired into the crowd,” Trapp said.
“And I ask you to really pay attention to what they say, and what they don’t say,” he said. “What evidence is presented and what evidence is not presented.”
On Christmas 2016 Alston proposed to his girlfriend, they opened presents with his children, had a big breakfast and went to another family member’s house to open more presents.
“There is not going to be a mention of a big plan in order to retaliate on a person that may or may not have done something,” Trapp said.