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'Magic cigarette' helps state secure convictions in deadly gas station shooting

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Marquis D. Young

Marquis D. Young

CROWN POINT — A Lake Criminal Court jury on Friday convicted a Merrillville man of killing one person and attempting to kill two others in a shooting last year at a Gary gas station.

Marquis D. Young, 30, was found guilty of murder and two counts of attempted murder in the shooting May 4, 2020, at the gas station in the 4500 block of Broadway.

Police found Dion Clayton, 27, of Gary, dead after following a blood trail a short distance. A 20-year-old man was wounded, and Young shot at a third person.

Lake County Deputy Prosecutor Daniel Burke used a pointer Friday as he showed jurors four synchronized surveillance videos of events leading up to the shooting and its aftermath.

Burke said it was reasonable to conclude that Young, who was seen inside the gas station smoking a cigarette minutes before, was the same person as a shadowy figure seen flicking a cigarette butt while running through an alley where the shooter emerged.

Young, who was wearing white shoes and dark pants, could be seen getting into a car, backing out of the gas station parking lot and pulling down Washington Street, Burke said.

Moments later, a person in white shoes and dark pants ran down an alley, flicked a cigarette to the ground, emerged and fired 23 shots at Clayton and others still at the gas station, he said.

"The state is asking you to put together the pieces — the only pieces available — to reach a reasonable conclusion," Burke said.

Join Tristan DeFord, Jami Rieck, and Nancy Zakutanksky on a shift working for Superior Ambulance in Merrillville.

Young's attorney, Mark Gruenhagen, didn't dispute that Young was seen inside the gas station.

The defense also didn't dispute that Young's DNA was found on a cigarette butt police later collected from the alley.

However, Gruenhagen told jurors the state wanted them to "trust the magic cigarette" and speculate about who fired the shots that killed Clayton and wounded the 20-year-old man.

Gruenhagen said the state didn't present enough evidence to prove Young was the shooter.

A DNA analyst was unable to say when DNA got on the cigarette or when the cigarette butt ended up in the alley, and several key witnesses were not called to testify during Clayton's weeklong trial, he said.

Gruenhagen questioned why detectives did not question a man whose name was given to police by witnesses, who suggested he had a beef with Clayton.

None of the witnesses ever told police to look at Young as a possible suspect, the defense attorney said.

Burke said the state was able to file charges in the case because of "excellent police work" by Detective Sgt. Antwan Jakes and the Lake County/Gary Metro Homicide Unit.

Jakes and Detective Sgt. Kristopher Adams used surveillance cameras from several businesses to pinpoint where the cigarette butt might have fallen and recovered it within days of the shooting, he said. 

It was the only cigarette butt in the alley and was unlikely to have been disturbed the Sunday and Monday in March 2020 after Clayton's homicide, he said.

About six months after Clayton was killed, an anonymous person called police and suggested they look at Young as a suspect, Burke said.

An analyst with Indiana State Police compared DNA on the cigarette butt with a sample from Young and determined he likely was the source.

Burke told jurors no one may ever know why Young wanted to kill Clayton, but the evidence was clear.

"Once we had a name, we were able to prove Marquis Young was there that night," he said.


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