YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) — It is said a picture tells a story, but when there are 115 photos, what story does that tell?
In Mahoning County Common Pleas Court, they tell the story of the Nov. 7, 2018, shooting deaths of Edward Morris, 21, Valarcia Blair, 19 and their 3-month-old son Tariq Morris. They were shot and killed in a car at the corner of Pasadena Avenue and Gibson Street next to a home on the corner that has a 702 Pasadena Ave. address.
On trial for their deaths are Taquashon Ray and Shainqon Sharpe, both 25. They each face four counts of aggravated murder as well as other charges for the deaths. It took investigators almost a year to the day of the deaths to secure an indictment.
The trial in the case began Wednesday before Judge Maureen Sweeney.
Prosecutors have yet to comment on a motive. Police have said they believe Edward Morris was lured there and ambushed and that Blair and Tariq just happened to be with them.
Thursday, prosecutors presented Youngstown police Officer Brad Ditullio, a member of the department’s Crime Lab, as their main witness to enter into evidence photographs of the crime scene and other evidence collected the night the three were killed.
It is usually a mundane, routine task of the person who takes the photos, in this case, Ditullio. The person describes those photos for jurors because every piece of evidence has to be entered on the record. Jurors can look at the photos when they deliberate if they wish.
It is just one more low-key event in a series of often low-key events that make up the majority of criminal trials, no matter the case. Rarely in a real-world courtroom is there an “I ordered the code red!” or a “You’re out of order!” moment. Even when the lawyers disagree on something, it often takes place out of the view of a jury, either in a hearing where jurors are excluded or behind closed doors in a judge’s chambers.
The three were killed just after 7 p.m., Nov. 7, 2018. Edward Morris was dead in the driver’s seat when police arrived, a .45-caliber handgun with an extended magazine on his lap. Blair, in the passenger’s seat, was severely wounded but she signaled to the first responding officer, city Patrolman Joe Wess, to check the back seat where he found Tariq wrapped in several blankets strapped into a car seat. Wess unfastened the seat, moved the blankets around and discovered that Tariq had also been shot.
Officers rushed Tariq to St. Elizabeth Health Center because they did not want to wait for an ambulance, but the baby died in surgery. Blair also died at the hospital.
Ditullio was off duty but on call so when investigators determined they needed someone to collect evidence, he was summoned to the scene. A graduate of Fitch High School, he has been on the force for 21 years and on the Crime Lab since 2015, save for a few stints when he had to go back on patrol because of a manpower shortage in the ranks.
Ditullio, with prodding from Assistant Prosecutor Rob Andrews, walked jurors through the 115 pictures of the crime scene. Facing north on Gibson Street was the silver four-door Saturn driven by Edward Morris where the three victims were killed. In front of that car was a white, two-door hatchback Ford Focus that prosecutors said was supposed to be the getaway car but was abandoned because it wouldn’t start.
Among the photos Ditullio took were several of the car the victims were in, including pictures taken before Morris’ body was removed. He was wearing a pair of blue jeans and a black jacket. There were at least four bullet holes in the windshield and his door also had several bullet holes. The driver’s side passenger door, which Tariq was strapped in next to, also had several bullet holes as did the front passenger door where Blair was sitting.
There were shots of bloodstains on the seats and shattered glass in the back seat from the back window that was blasted out by gunfire. Next to where the car seat would have been appeared to be a blanket and on the floor of the passenger’s side in the back seat was a can of baby wipes. There was also blood on the back seat that probably came from Tariq.
In the front seat on both floorboards are the types of mats often given to people who take their car to a garage or service center to get fixed, with imprints of shoes on them. These mats said in large black letters IT HAS BEEN A PLEASURE TO SERVE YOU. Next to the mat on the driver’s side, Ditullio found a spent .45-caliber shell casing from the gun Edward Morris had. Police said at the time he had fired at least one round at his attackers. Ditullio also testified he found another shell casing inside the car on the driver’s side as well.
Ditullio also found a spent bullet in the front seat between a belt buckle and the center console. He also found the cell phones for both victims on the sides of their respective seats.
In the back seat on the floor on the driver’s side, Ditullio found a digital scale. There was also a black New Balance bag that was found in the car and its contents were spilled across the hood and photographed, but it was hard to tell on the large screen television monitor what those items were.
Outside the car were shell casings, lots of shell casings. Ditullio, who for a part-time job is also a high school football official, said it was a fairly complex crime scene and another veteran Crime Lab officer, Anthony Marzullo, was called in to help.
There were shell casings outside the car on both sides, and behind the car, mostly from a 7.62mm AK-47 type assault rifle, although police also did find at least five 9mm shell casings. The AK-47 casings, about 18 of them, made a trail westward in front of 702 Pasadena Avenue, through the yard, through the drive and to the back and side of the car. They were each marked with a numbered placard.
Ditullio explained that when he uses the placards at a homicide, he begins marking evidence outward from wherever the body is found, in this case, where Morris was. The first placard, Number 1, is next to an AK-47 casing on the driver’s side of the car.
Ditullio placed at least 24 placards marking shell casings and photographed each placard and the casing next to it. In court, he identified each one, under questioning from Andrews, for the jurors.
After he collected the evidence at the scene, Ditullio took it to the police department to begin storing it. As he did so, he was asked to take a photo of the handgun found on Morris, which contained specks of his blood near the slide.
Ditullio was also asked to take a picture of a text message found on one of the victim’s phones. Just then, after more than two hours of testimony, Judge Sweeney decided it was time for a 15-minute break and court recessed.
Jurors, spectators, attorneys and even the defendants, under the watchful eyes of several sheriff’s deputies, took advantage of the lull to stretch their legs, to confer over upcoming testimony. Left on the television screen for jurors was a picture of messages from the phone of someone who called themselves “Mann Mann.”
“Love u,” Mann Mann texted someone, leaving a heart-faced emoji and kissy-face emoji next to his text.
“Love you too,” was the reply accompanied by two heart-faced emojis and a kissy face emoji.
There were three more texts from Mann Mann:
And then the texts ended.
Testimony is expected to resume later today and continue Friday.