JONESBORO — They sat in the first row of Courtroom 204, the only inmates dressed in red-and-white jumpsuits, charged in the Nov. 7 fatal shooting of a man who was pumping gas at a Chevron station in Ellenwood.
Daijon Dion Lamar Tyes, 18, and Amourion Zacchaeus Bruce, 17, sat Friday with larger, older inmates as a Clayton County Sheriff's deputy explained the first-appearance routine: sit up straight. Don't look at the back door. Don't communicate with anyone. Don't tell the judge anything about your case. Everything's being recorded. Anything you say will be used against you. Cash bond, bail bond, property bond...
Tyes, the taller of the two, glared without blinking at a news camera, making the face of a "hard" criminal. Bruce, shorter and skinnier, looked straight ahead.
The deputy called, "All rise."
Chief Magistrate Judge Wanda Dallas called Tyes first. He cocked his head to the right and glared as Dallas read off the charges against him: malice murder, felony murder, criminal attempt armed robbery, felony murder, possession of a firearm during commission of a crime, carrying a concealed weapon, obstructing an officer.
"Do you understand?"
"Yes, ma'am," Tyes said.
Dallas told Tyes he would not get bond and that he would be back in court for a preliminary hearing on Dec. 17 at 8 a.m. in Room 201. She asked if he had an attorney. Tyes did not respond.
He looked up. "My aunt's gonna go buy a lawyer for me," Tyes replied.
"That's an interesting way to phrase it," Dallas responded. "Your aunt's going to hire an attorney for you."
As Tyes was led to the inmate's door, Dallas said, "I'm going to have Judge George finish the calendar for the rest of you," then left.
A few minutes later, Judge Sonya George took the bench. She called Bruce, a small, skinny kid in an adult situation, and read his charges: Malice murder. Felony murder. Criminal attempt. And no bond.
George told Bruce his first hearing is scheduled for Dec. 5 at 8 a.m. in Room 202 and that he is eligible for a court-appointed attorney. He was shuffled over for the next defendant as he tried to write on a scrap of paper.
As George was speaking to the next inmate, Bruce interrupted. "Um, 'scuse me, can you say that one more time?"
Two sheriff's deputies guided him to the inmate's door. He looked confused. The door shut.
At the scene of the crime, the Chevron gas station at 2684 Rex Road, people came and went. The only hint something had happened was a TV news van parked out front.
A store employee, Ali, said the shooting had happened outside at pump 3. "It was a customer," he said. "We heard shots outside."
Across the street, a TV reporter staked out the scene. A woman who identified herself as Monique said she had seen the shooting because she was filling up her car at pump 7.
"I was pumping gas. All I heard was gunshots. When I looked, the young man ran away and jumped those fences--" pointing to the the subdivision across the street--"and that's when the police kinda got him."
She said she saw the victim, who was pumping gas, shove "the tall one" with both hands.
Then, according to Monique, "the tall one" pulled a pistol from his waistband and fired. "It was loud." she said.
The victim, dressed in red, fell. "His blue Nissan Sentra was in front, and he was laying flat down."
The shooter, who she said was wearing a black hoodie, jumped over a fire hydrant, ran across the street, and scrambled over a tall fence into someone's yard in the subdivision.
She said the victim's father owns a restaurant and showed a photo of a sign on the door: closed due to a family emergency.
Monique said it took police about 15 minutes to arrive. By then, the victim had died on the ground right behind his car. "The young man, all he had time to do was to fall flat. And he was like—" she pantomimed twitching. "And he took his last breath right there."
She showed a photo of the scene.
"There's probably more," she said. "Everyone in the subdivision was sitting out here."
"I want to know where they live at," Monique said of the victim's family. "I want to take them a flower. But right now, they probably don't want to be bothered," adding, "We're getting ready for Thanksgiving and they're laying their son to rest."
Monique said she's planning to move. The neighborhood wasn't like this when she came here. "It used to be quiet here. No longer." Too much goes on at the store, she said. Cars began pulling into the Chevron, stereos blasting. Graffiti outside the store declared "Dirt Gang."
"He's hard," Monique said of the tall one. "They're gonna break him down in there."
A moment that can never be erased. Bullets that can never be put back in a black Taurus pistol. A ripple effect.
"My kids will never be the same," she said. "We passed by here yesterday and my little boy screamed."