HOUSTON (CBSDFW.COM/AP) — Activists praised Houston area law enforcement for pursuing a tip that led to the arrest of a man in the fatal drive-by shooting of a 7-year-old girl.
Some had initially suggested the shooting was a hate crime, since young victim Jazmine Barnes is African-American and the suspect described by witnesses was a White man.
But Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez announced Sunday that prosecutors had arrested and charged Eric Black Jr., a 20-year-old African-American man, with capital murder in Jazmine’s death on December 30.
Black told investigators he was the driver of the SUV from which a passenger fired into the vehicle and killed Jazmine. Gonzalez said they have identified a second suspect, who also is Adrican-American, but declined to say if the person is in custody.
The tip that sent the case in a new direction came from social activist and writer Shaun King. Before that tip, police had issued a sketch of a white man based on a description of the shooter provided by Jazmine’s family, and had circulated surveillance video of a red pickup truck he was apparently driving.
The sheriff said there was, in fact, a red pickup truck driven by a white man seen at a stoplight just before the shooting, but the driver did not appear to have been involved. Gonzalez said it was dark, the shooting happened quickly, and the red truck was probably the last thing seen by Jazmine’s family.
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On this past Thursday, a brave witness came to me to report that Larry Woodruffe and Eric Black, Jr. actually shot and killed 7 year old Jazmine Barnes and that Jazmine’s mother and family and 4 other eyewitnesses had confused a white man who sped off in his truck as the shooter. I reported this to the Sheriff immediately, because the witness was so compelling, but the sheriff and I both just could not make sense of it. 4 different eyewitnesses thought the shooter was the white man in the truck. It wasn’t. It was these men. We received so many bad tips, and so much misinformation, it just took us 3 days to solve it after the initial report was made. Let me tell you the story of the red truck and how it came to be the focus of this investigation. Two men, in a completely different vehicle, pulled up and shot and killed Jazmine Barnes, shot her mother, and injured her sisters. Jazmine and the girls were still in pajamas. Her mother and the girls never saw the shooter. They heard the shots, saw that Jazmine was shot in the head, that her mother was shot, and then looked up and saw this red truck with a white man driving it peeling off. THREE separate eyewitnesses, each credible, who also heard the shooting, also saw this truck speeding off. I spoke to each of them. They also assumed the white man driving it fired the shots. A brave man even followed the red truck in his own car and got a good look at him. A tow truck driver also saw the truck and got a look at him. In the meantime, the two men that actually shot and killed Jazmine drove off in a completely different direction through the neighborhood. They each later claimed that they thought they were shooting someone from a rival gang. Yes, they did it. No, they weren’t framed. It just took several days to solve it.
King acknowledged on social media his role in providing the tip. The New York-based civil rights activist and former senior justice writer at the New York Daily News highlights racial issues on social media and in his writing. King’s website says he currently uses his platform as a columnist for The Intercept and writer for the Harvard Law School’s Fair Punishment Project “to unearth the truth beyond local media.”
A $100,000 reward, raised in part by King, was offered for information in the Jazmine Barnes case.
Deric Muhammad, an organizer of a rally on Saturday in Houston to demand “Justice for Jazmine,” commended Gonzalez for working with the community to collect evidence leading to the arrest.
“We are still heartbroken at the thought of a 7-year-old innocent child losing her life in such a violent way,” Muhammad said in a statement. “We are no less heartbroken that those person(s) currently charged with this homicide are Black; not White.”
Gonzalez cautioned that authorities were still investigating, but said: “At this point, it does not appear it was related to race.”
Chris Sevilla, Jazmine’s father, said in a brief telephone interview that he was feeling “a bit of relief right now” after the arrest.
The shooting took place while Jazmine, her mother and three sisters were on their way to the grocery store.
Gonzalez said the shooting appears to have been a case of mistaken identity. The killers thought the vehicle was someone else’s they had seen earlier that night. Prosecutors did not say why the killers opened fire.
Court records did not list an attorney for Black, who was arrested Saturday afternoon during a traffic stop. Prosecutors said the 9 mm handgun they believe was used in the shooting had been recovered from Black’s home.
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, a black Democrat who represents parts of Houston, said the community came together to help solve the case.
“It’s wonderful to have a sheriff who’s willing to engage in a dialogue about violence, about hate, about guns and we have that along with the (police chief), the mayor of our city,” Lee said.
James Dixon, a prominent pastor in Houston, also thanked Gonzalez for working around the clock in the investigation.
“We are blessed in this city to have the kind of collegial relationships between pastors and law enforcement and elected officials where we all really work together, we cry together, we pray together, we serve together and sacrifice together. In moments like these, we come together in order to mend and heal broken hearts,” Dixon said.
(© Copyright 2019 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)