CROWN POINT — A jury found a Gary business owner not guilty of murder Thursday on allegations he shot a 44-year-old man during an argument about stolen car batteries at a Gary junk yard.
The state alleged during the four-day trial Michael Brown, 43, fatally shot Danny Leake after the victim and his friend, Arthur Smith, accused Brown and Hillard Hathaway, 47, of stealing car batteries Jan. 25 from a junk yard in the 1400 block of East 49th Avenue in Gary.
Smith testified earlier this week Brown shot Leake, but Brown took the stand Thursday morning to deny that claim.
Brown, dressed in a white shirt, pink-striped tie and black pants, told the jury he was a married father of three children and owner of an automobile shop in Gary's Glen Park neighborhood. Brown, who walked to the stand with a noticeable limp, said he had a prosthetic limb due to a motorcycle crash in 2008.
Brown said he left his business the night of Jan. 24 and went to a KFC restaurant to get food for his family. He said he got a call there from Hathaway, a regular customer, asking for help pulling his vehicle out from the mud in the 1400 block of East 49th Avenue.
Brown said he dropped off the family's food, got chains from his business, and helped Hathaway. Two men — Leake and Smith — arrived at the junk yard in a truck and asked about Hathaway.
Brown said after he left the yard, he received a phone call questioning him about stolen car batteries. He denied the thefts, but after several more phone calls, he decided to return to the junk yard with Hathaway.
Brown denied he brought a firearm to the yard. He said he was speaking with Smith when he heard a gunshot. He said Hathaway fired a gun at the ground while arguing with Leake.
He said Smith managed to calm down the men, but then he heard Hathaway say “Gun,” followed by an eruption of gunfire. Brown said he ducked behind his vehicle as bullets whizzed past his ear and through his shirt. He eventually got into his vehicle, at which point he saw Leake laying on the ground.
He said Hathaway got into the passenger seat and said, “Let's go.” He then left the scene.
Brown admitted he did not call police. He claimed he no longer had the clothing he wore from the day of the shooting and he scrapped the vehicle he drove that night. He said Gary detectives did not contact him before charging him with murder.
Under cross-examination by Lake County Deputy Prosecutor James Dillon, Brown said he did not call police after the shooting because he was scared.
“I was being shot at, sir,” he said. “I don't know who these men are.”
Defense attorney Scott King said Smith initially lied about his name while being questioned about the shooting, and further suggested Smith fired a gun at Brown.
He scoffed at the claims Brown — “the one-legged, 44-year-old auto mechanic” — was a killer.
“You heard the truth from, of all people, the person they are trying to prosecute with a few lies,” King said.
Dillon said King's theories were “Swiss cheese,” or full of holes, and intended to distract from the truth.
Hathaway remains charged with attempted murder in the shooting. His next court hearing is Dec. 11.