On an unseasonably warm Christmas Day, families gathered outside Trinity Court apartments assembling a new bike and playing with new presents when bullets rained from a car that stopped near a dumpster.
One of those bullets hit 14-month-old Maleah Williams in the back of the head as her mother held her in her arms. She died in the hospital three days later.
“That is what happens when absolute innocence collides with absolute indifference,” Orange County Assistant District Attorney William Massengale said in closing arguments Wednesday.
Absolute indifference by Ramone Jamarr Alston and Pierre Je Bron Moore, Massengale said.
Alston drove down the short, skinny driveway in front of Trinity Court apartments in Chapel Hill on Dec. 25, 2015. He turned around and drove back.
Moore jumped out of the passenger side of the car and opened fire on the families, said witnesses, who heard two guns and also saw the driver, Alston, shoot, Massengale said.
Prosecutors say Moore was aiming to confront Jaylen McNair after an incident earlier that day.
Alston also believed McNair was involved in three invasions into his home in 2014, prosecutors said.
Massengale said both men had loaded guns, and the number of bullets found indicate there were two guns fired – one by Moore and another by Alston.
Alston, 24, was one of three Chapel Hill men charged with first-degree murder in Maleah's detah and with discharging a weapon into an occupied property after the shooting.
Moore, 25, also faces those charges.
In 2016 prosecutors dismissed charges against a third man, Shaquille Oneill Davis.
On Wednesday morning, attorneys presented their closing arguments.
Both sides agree that Alston was driving the car, but they dispute whether he planned, participated or knew about the shooting.
During the trial, jurors visited Trinity Court and heard from Alston, who testified Tuesday.
In opening arguments, Assistant District Attorney Jeff Nieman laid out a scenario in which an incident involving Davis and McNair earlier that day led to the shooting.
Around noon, Nieman said, the men got into a fight at Trinity Court, a 40-unit public housing community off North Pritchard Avenue in Chapel Hill. The fight ended with McNair taking money and marijuana from Davis, the prosecutor said.
Davis left, but said, ‘I am coming back,’” Nieman said.
Davis went to a nearby apartment complex, met up with Alston, Moore and another person and planned to return to Trinity Court to get 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.
After the shooting, Alston provided inconsistent statements to police, initially saying he wasn’t there, and did little to help police in their investigation, Massengale said in closing arguments.
The question isn’t whether Alston was there, said defense attorney Jonathan Trapp, but was he responsible for the shooting.
“Did Ramone Alston participate in the shooting and killing of Maleah Williams?” Trapp said. “Did he participate in that crime?”
Trapp argued that the prosecutors have not proven that Alston planned or participated in the shooting that lead to Maleah’s death. Most of the witnesses said they only say one shooter, Trapp said.
Alston picked up Moore to take Christmas presents to Moore’s girlfriend, Trapp said. He planned to go by Trinity Court apartments to talk with McNair about the 2014 break-ins, but decided not to stop, Trapp said.
Alston had his 3-year-old son in the car and was upset when Moore started shooting, putting his son at risk, Trapp said.
If Alston was actually planning a shooting, “he would not have taken his son. He would have dropped him off. Planned a little better,” Trapp said.
“This was not a plan that was premeditated or deliberated,” Trapp said. “This [shooting] was an independent act by an individual who is not in this courtroom,” Trapp said, alluding to Moore.
“Right now the state wants you to convict Mr. Alston on the actions of Pierre Moore,” whom other witnesses described as high-tempered and unpredictable, Trapp said.
“All Ramone did was drive the car,” Trapp said.
After the shooting, Alston implicated Moore, a friend who was like a little brother, Trapp said.
Evidence at the trial also showed that Alston sold drugs and handled marijuana in front of his children, but his character is not on trial, Trapp said.
Nieman agreed, but said in closing arguments the jury can use that information, along with other inconsistent statements and actions, to determine whom to believe.
"You judge his credibility, and what he has told you in face of all the evidence," that you will consider, Nieman said.
The jury deliberated for nearly three hours Wednesday and will return to court at 9:30 a.m. Thursday