Night of deadly party described in opening of murder trial
Fun turned tragic for promising basketball star
SCHENECTADY Eddie Stanley went to a party that night on Bridge Street, fresh from a basketball tournament in New York City.
But what that party became, a prosecutor said Thursday, was an angry search for a set of car keys by the armed bouncers from Brooklyn.
When that search for the bouncers’ keys turned to illegal searches of partygoers, the scene turned horrifying, prosecutor Philip Mueller told the Schenectady County Court jury.
“[Stanley] was with his girlfriend, he was with some other friends, teenage friends,” Mueller told the jury Thursday at the trial of the man accused of killing the 15-year-old. “He was having fun. He had his whole life ahead of him. Minutes later, he was dead, shot multiple times, possibly by multiple guns.”
The main weapon, Mueller told the jury, was a .44 Magnum revolver, a weapon so powerful it’s also called a “hand cannon” and is the same weapon associated with “Dirty Harry.”
As to who fired, “He did that,” Mueller told the jury, “James Wells.”
Wells, 31, of Brooklyn, is standing trial one second-degree murder and other counts, accused in the June 12, 2011 killing of the promising young basketball player at the party at 730 Bridge St.
Wells maintains his innocence.
In a courtroom where the gallery held Stanley’s many friends and family, Mueller detailed the party that night. He also outlined physical evidence: DNA from a bottle placing Wells at the party; a fingerprint from an apartment across the street where Wells stayed; the print on a box of .44-caliber bullets.
He also revealed that what is believed to be the murder weapon was recovered, rusted, with roots growing around it just last October in the corner of a backyard of another Bridge Street residence. In the cylinder were two live rounds and four empty shell casings. Cleaned up by investigators, the gun was a match to the gun used to kill Stanley.
Mueller told the jury that witnesses will finger Wells as the shooter.
Wells’ attorney Cheryl Coleman seized on those witnesses in her own opening statement.
Wells, Coleman said, was at the party, but he wasn’t the shooter. He was a witness. It was the rumor mill on the street that led investigators wrongly to Wells, she told the jury. With that, investigators were focused on Wells, not interested in accounts that the shooter was someone else.
Some witnesses, she told the jury, initially said another person was the shooter, that Wells didn’t do it. They then changed their story to fit the Wells-as-shooter narrative.
“Say the magic word, say ‘I was scared,’ ” Coleman suggested to the jury of police tactics. “Get immunity there, immunity prizes are handed out here. Immunity for guns that night. Immunity from drugs. Immunity from perjury.”
“Who do you trust?” Coleman asked. “Who do you trust?”
Among those Coleman apparently was referencing, though neither she nor Mueller referenced them specifically, are three jailhouse informants. They are expected to testify that Wells either made admissions to them or they overheard admissions.
Those witnesses were the subject of a hearing conducted Wednesday afternoon and ruled upon by Supreme Court Justice Michael V. Coccoma Thursday morning. Coccoma rejected defense challenges to the informant testimony.
Mueller started his opening simply by saying that Eddie Stanley died because his world as a Schenectady teenager collided with that of the Brooklyn native Wells.
They collided as Stanley returned to Schenectady from the New York City basketball tournament, a loss earlier that day eliminating the team from the event.
Stanley didn’t tell his parents he was returning. Instead, dropped off at a friend’s house, he and two friends made their way to the Bridge Street party. Stanley and his friends brought with them a fruit drink spiked with alcohol to sell.
The party, mostly of teenagers, was a loud and raucous one, Mueller told the jury. Teens drank, teens also smoked marijuana. The party spilled out of the second floor apartment outside.
Wells and three of his associates had set up shop at an apartment nearly across the street from the party. From the apartment they sold drugs. They also struck up relationships with teens at the party house, then essentially became bouncers at that party and one held the night before. Wells and his friends checked everyone for weapons.
Along the way, though, Wells and his associates drank. “They went from being bouncers to bullies,” Mueller said.
At some point, one of Wells’ associates lost track of his rental car keys. They blamed a partier, unknown.
In the hunt for the keys, they took over the party. First, they shut off the music and demanded whoever took the keys turn them over. No one did. The music back on, they shut it off again, and shut down the party.
It was over, but, they told those there that no one would leave without being searched for the keys.
Most at the party complied with the illegal searches, rather than fight. Eddie Stanley’s friends, and possibly Stanley, objected.
A fight broke out and Stanley joined in to help his friends. At some point, Stanley moved to leave. His girlfriend was outside.
Wells stopped him, the prosecution contends. Either Stanley started fighting his way past, or tried to. Whatever he did, he was unarmed.
Wells was armed, with the .44 Magnum revolver, and possibly a .357, also a powerful handgun.
Stanley was hit by at least four rounds. Mueller outlined the devastating injuries, indicating he tried to flee the onslaught. He collapsed.
Stanley, Mueller told the jury, “was a big kid, a man in stature, an athlete.” He was also brought down “like a bolt from Thor.”
Wells and his associates then fled, apparently never having found their keys, as those still outside tried to comprehend the terror of those shots.