CROWN POINT — Michael Brown learned he was being charged with murder after reading an article in a newspaper, defense attorney Scott King said Tuesday during opening statements in the Merrillville man’s murder trial.
After being selected on Monday, the jury of eight women and six men returned to Judge Clarence Murray’s courtroom to hear those opening statements by attorneys and testimony by prosecution witnesses.
Brown, 42, is charged in the Jan. 25 murder of Danny Raye Leake, 44, in the 1400 block of East 49th Avenue in Gary. Police found Leake, of Gary and Tennessee, unresponsive in a pool of blood about 1:33 a.m. that day in a vacant lot where a house fire had occurred several months before.
Hillard Hathaway, 46, Merrillville, is also charged with murder and attempted murder in the same shooting death, court documents indicate.
According to a probable cause affidavit, a witness told police he and Leake were towing a vehicle the night of Jan. 25 when they noticed a burgundy SUV and a black pickup truck were parked outside the empty lot.
That witness, identified in court Tuesday as Arthur Smith, said he and Leake spoke with two men, “Mike” and “Hilton,” who said they were there removing batteries from vehicles. Smith called his father, Robert Lofton, who owned the property to ask if the men were permitted to be there removing batteries, according to information in the opening statement of Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Natalie McCandies.
Citing Smith’s statements to Gary police, McCandies said Brown fired two shots at the witness, who was able to hide behind a disabled vehicle, and then “fired at Mr. Leake multiple times.”
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In his opening statement, King refuted that account, indicating that Brown witnessed a verbal altercation between Hathaway, Smith and Leake and that Hathaway pulled out a gun.
“Shots were fired by Hillard Hathaway,” King said. “Shots were also fired by Danny Leake. Michael is scared out of his mind, drops off Hathaway and goes home. He finds out by reading the paper in February that he and Hathaway are charged with murder.”
Deputy Prosecuting Attorney James Dillon called Leake’s mother, Martha Stevenson, as the first witness.
Stevenson, of South Holland, Illinois, said she spoke with her oldest son, Danny, on the Tuesday before he died. They made plans for Danny to replace the oxygen sensor in her car.
She said she learned about her son’s death when someone from the Lake County coroner’s office came to her home.
In cross-examining Stevenson, King asked if Leake was friends with Arthur Smith. Stevenson said they had been friends for years and that she only knew Smith by his nickname “Boo.”