Trial begins in 2011 shooting death of Gene Deshawn Grisby-Bell
on April 24, 2012
For Gene Deshawn Grisby-Bell, a toxic mixture of neighborhood feuds, searing juvenile emotions, a small-caliber handgun and bad luck led to the end of his promising young life on a January afternoon in 2011.
Grisby-Bell, a 16-year-old El Cerrito High School student and football player, was walking from his grandmother’s Crescent Park apartment when a white sedan packed with five teenagers stopped in the street. According to both the prosecution and defense in a murder trial that started Monday in Martinez, Tyris Franklin, then 16, bolted from the back seat and chased and shot Grisby-Bell four times as he ran for cover.
Grisby-Bell died moments later just inside his apartment door as his grandmother and aunts pleaded with him to hold on. His death sparked an outpouring of community mourning, both in the south Richmond neighborhood where he lived and at El Cerrito High School, where he excelled on the football team. A Facebook page dedicated to his memory has nearly 400 “likes.”
The details were revealed during opening statements in the trial against Franklin, now 17. Neither side disputes that Franklin fired the fatal shots into Grisby-Bell’s body, but Franklin’s defense attorney argues that her client should be convicted of the lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter because he was distraught, enraged and in fear over the beating of his younger brother earlier that day.
Grisby was not involved in the beating of Terrell Franklin, then 12 years old, who was jumped earlier in the day by several young men and boys in the Crescent Park apartment complex.
“There is no doubt that this was a tragedy,” Defense Attorney Elizabeth Harrigan said in her opening remarks Monday. “Gene Grisby is dead and he shouldn’t be … but this was not a cold-blooded murder.”
The story Harrigan and Deputy District Attorney Barry Grove told the jury about the events that led to Grisby-Bell’s killing were virtually the same. Franklin’s intent and state of mind are where the two sides differ.
Grove portrayed Franklin as a coherent and methodical attacker, bent on exacting indiscriminate revenge on whoever was unlucky enough to cross paths with him when he rode with four friends into the Crescent Park apartments, packing a 22-caliber pistol and an extra ammunition magazine.
“When his friend told the defendant that this kid (Grisby-Bell) didn’t do anything,” Grove said. “The response from the defendant was ‘it don’t matter.’”
After opening statements, the prosecution called several witnesses, including Grisby-Bell’s grandmother and aunt, a Richmond police detective, two Crescent Park security guards, and one of the boys who rode in the car that took Franklin to the scene where he killed Grisby-Bell.
According to Barefield’s testimony Monday, Franklin walked to his friend Khalifa Barefield’s house in the middle of the day Jan. 11. Barefield, 17, was hanging out and smoking marijuana with Jean-Pierre Fordjour, 19, and Fordjour’s younger brother Joseph, and another teen, Jaswinder Bohgal.
Soon after Franklin arrived, Barefield received a call on his cell phone from Franklin’s older brother, Demond.
Barefield testified that he handed the phone to Tyris Franklin, who did not have his own phone, and watched as Franklin received the news that his younger brother was beaten that morning, and that the attackers had served notice that they wanted to attack him too.
“His facial expression kind of showed anger,” Barefield said.
Barefield testified that Franklin got off the phone and asked the elder Fordjour, who had a rented Dodge Avenger, for a ride to Crescent Park.
The group of five piled into the car and drove toward the apartment complex, Barefield said, bumping music on the radio and bound with an unstated agreement that they would support Franklin in a street fight against a rival at Crescent Park.
“Why did you go?” Grove asked.
“Tyrus is my friend … I went as backup,” Barefield said.
No one knew that Franklin was packing a loaded silver pistol in his black hoodie pocket, Barefield said.
Just before the group had departed en route to Crescent Park, Grisby-Bell had come came home from school on the bus and ate some soup while sitting on the living room couch, his grandmother, Dianne McAdoo, testified.
Unaware of the beating earlier in the day or the pack of teens driving toward his apartment complex, Grisby-Bell changed into a sweatshirt and basketball shorts to go lift weights at the gym at nearby Booker T. Anderson Park. Grisby-Bell’s father, Terry Bell, had taken his son to school that morning, like he did every morning, McAdoo said.
“He was normal and happy,” McAdoo said. “When he came in we laughed because he was wearing these rose-colored glasses, like girls glasses, just joking around.”
As the Dodge Avenger turned onto Fleming Street in the Crescent Park apartments, Franklin was in the back passenger seat, looking out the window. Barefield was sitting next to him, in the back middle.
Grisby-Bell was the first person they saw. Barefield recognized the husky 16-year-old football player as a classmate El Cerrito High, which Barefield attended for just a few months.
“I said ‘Why are we riding up on Gene, he don’t got nothing to do with the situation,’” Barefield said.
Barefield testified that he didn’t remember what Franklin said before bolting out the door and producing a silver handgun, but Grove pressed the teen under direct examination.
“Was it, ‘It don’t matter, he from Crescent’?” Grove asked.
“Yeah maybe something like that,” Barefield responded.
When Grisby-Bell saw the gun, he turned and ran back toward apartment.
McAdoo, who had seen him leave moments earlier, was startled by the gunshots.
Tiffany Hollister, Grisby-Bell’s aunt, was standing at the kitchen sink when the shots rang out, giving her a view outside through a chest-high window.
Hollister testified that she saw Franklin running from the street to the sidewalk, a silver gun turned sideways at the end of his extended right arm, firing in a downward angle. Franklin’s target was out of view, Hollister said.
Who Franklin was shooting would be revealed seconds later, when Hollister was pleading with her nephew to hold on as he bled on the apartment floor.
But at that moment, Hollister boldly sought to get the shooter’s attention.
“I banged on the window and said ‘I see you (expletive),’” Hollister testified.
All four of Grisby-Bell’s wounds were to his back or side, as he was fleeing the bullets, Grove said. He was hit in the calf and the elbow, and his scalp was grazed. The fatal bullet hit him in the side of the torso and traveled across his body, Grove said.
Franklin jogged back to the car and the driver, Fordjour, sped off. The group got on the nearby I-580 onramp and drove to Oakland, where they parked in a residential area and smoked marijuana and listened to music, Grove told the jury.
What they didn’t know, Grove said, was that a security guard had reported their license plate. When they came back to Richmond later that day, they were stopped and arrested by Richmond police.
Franklin still had the gun and an empty magazine.
Fordjour, the driver, was also charged in Grisby’s death and will stand trial separately. Now age 20, Fordjour was an honors student at El Cerrito High who spent summers in an Ivy League enrichment program. The other teens were not charged.
Franklin, a diminutive teen who was described Monday as quiet and soft-spoken, sat in a black button-up shirt and wore black glasses at the hearing Monday.
His attorney told the jury that her client was distraught over his brother’s beating, and was not thinking clearly. In the weeks prior, Franklin was overcome with fear after numerous neighborhood run-ins, including being threatened with a gun near the continuation high school he was attending, Harrigan said.
It all drove him over the edge, Harrigan argued.
“He was sitting in the back of that car, quiet, grim,” Harrigan said of Franklin’s ride to the Crescent Park apartments. “This was a 16-year-old thinking, ‘I don’t know what to do, but I have to do something to make it stop.’”
Outside the courtroom, Grisby-Bell’s father, Terry Bell, 42, said he has relied on his family and faith to cope with the loss of his son.
“I’ve had to draw strength from my family and from above,” Bell said. “This is unimaginable, terrible for everyone involved. We lost Gene that day, and we lost a part of ourselves forever.”
Closing arguments are expected to be delivered next week.
Coverage of this trial is thanks in part to our partnership with journalists at RichmondPulse.org, another community-based news organization.
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