Father of murdered child takes stand, unwillingly, against accused killers

Judge orders arrest to get father of murdered child to testify in court against accused killers.

Rashaw Scott, whose 16-month-old son was fatally shot two years ago in Cherry Hill, took the witness stand Friday in the trial of the five men accused in the killing.

But Scott — who also was shot and survived the attack — was not in the courtroom willingly to seek justice for his son Carter. After refusing to come to court, a judge issued a bench warrant to bring him in. He sat in a yellow jumpsuit after a night in jail, his hands cuffed to a belt.

On the stand, Scott dialed back his previous account of the shooting, saying he remembered little and had been coached by police on what to say.

"I don't remember," Scott said to Assistant State's Attorney Tonya LaPolla when asked about a photo lineup with his signature on it. "That could be anybody's. It could be yours. I'm not an analyst."

It was not clear why Scott was reluctant to testify, though it highlights a continuing challenge authorities face in getting witnesses, and even victims, to come to court.

Scott complained of police coming to his workplace as they investigated his son's death, which he said jeopardized his job, and acknowledged that he had to be brought in on another bench warrant for a previous hearing in the case.

Judges can sign bench warrants authorizing the arrest of a witness solely for the purpose of bringing them to court, and the witnesses are released from custody after testifying.

Scott's testimony came on the fifth day of trial in the killing May 24, 2013. Cornell Harvey is accused of luring Scott to the Cherrydale Apartments complex, where prosecutors say Eddie Tarver, Dequan Shields, Rashid Mayo and Reginald Love carried out the shooting.

LaPolla told jurors in opening statements that Scott immediately told the first officers on the scene that Harvey had "set him up."

Scott would not corroborate that account on the stand. He vacillated between saying police had coached him on what to say, and agreeing that Harvey likely set him up but that he had no proof.

"I went to meet Harvey, and I got shot," Scott testified. "[The police] suggested he lured me, and it's a possibility. I'm not sure."

LaPolla played for the jury a recorded interview Scott gave with detectives from Maryland Shock Trauma Center two days after the shooting, while he was still being treated and hooked up to machines, which could be heard beeping in the background.

On the recording, Scott sounds convinced of Harvey's role.

"I'm 100 percent sure he set me up," he said on the tape.

Scott said on the tape, as well as on the witness stand, that he was on good terms with Harvey before that day. Harvey called him a day earlier wanting to meet, and Scott said he didn't reply. The next day, they decided to get together and Scott picked Harvey up in his girlfriend's car.

Carter Scott was strapped into a car seat in the back.

As they drove, Harvey said he needed to see someone at the apartment complex — something having to do with a girl he knew and a high school prom, Scott recalled. Harvey directed him to a particular parking space. Scott backed in, and Harvey told him to wait.

Scott told detectives at the hospital that Harvey kept telling him to sit tight, even though Scott said he was in no rush. In hindsight, Scott said this was unusual.

Harvey was 20 feet away when "a dude with a hoodie and track pants pulled the joint out," Scott told the detectives, referring to a handgun. Scott said he reached back toward the baby, attempting to pull him out of the car seat and onto the floor. He fumbled with the seat belt button as bullets struck him in the head, arm and leg.

"I heard someone say, 'Make sure he gone,' and I played dead for 20 seconds," Scott said on the tape.

Carter was crying, but his father did not know he had been shot. The baby had been struck in the legs and bled to death.

"That [expletive] wasn't right," Scott told the detectives from the hospital. "If they wanted me, [Harvey] had me. I could come the next day without my son."

Homicide Detective Jonathan Jones can be heard on the tape asking Scott to write out his statement and telling him to "write it however you want it. It's up to you."

"We're going to do anything and everything we can to bring them to justice, legally," Jones said in the interview.

But Scott said on the witness stand that the detectives told him before the recording what to say, even mouthing words to him as he spoke. He also said he was high on medication. He said he told police what they wanted to hear so that he could glean information from them.

On the recording, Scott identifies himself as "Shawn," and the photo lineup that he signed identifying Harvey was also signed with that name. Scott testified that he has never gone by that name.

To many of LaPolla's questions in court, he responded, "I don't remember."

Scott reclined in his chair on the witness stand and looked at the ceiling as the tape of his statement to police was played. After it concluded, LaPolla paused, then picked up a photo that she first showed to defense attorneys.

It was a picture of Carter's body on a hospital bed, and she placed it in front of Scott and asked him if he recognized it.

Emotion washed across Scott's face, and he lashed out. "I don't want to see that. Why would you put that in front of me?" he said.

Scott shut down for the rest of her questions.

"The police made me write it. They made me write everything," he said under continued questioning about his signed statement.

Authorities say Harvey's prom story for visiting the Cherrydale Apartments can't be corroborated, supporting the theory that he set up the shooting. Still, no motive has been offered.

Scott's testimony did not implicate any of the other defendants. Tarver was arrested the day of the shooting after police pursued him in a car fleeing the scene. Scott said he recognized Tarver but couldn't identify him as one of the shooters.

LaPolla said Love and Shields are linked to the crime through DNA found on gloves at the scene and in the getaway car. Mayo was picked out of a photo lineup by an officer who said he saw Mayo climb into the car before it sped away. Scott said he didn't know them.

Defense attorneys said witnesses have given inconsistent statements regarding the number of gunmen observed at the scene, raising questions about the investigation.

"The state will not be able to prove there were four shooters," attorney Michael Mitchell said earlier this week.

The trial veered close to a mistrial when Scott was asked by defense attorney Sharon May about his relationship with Harvey. Scott said he met Harvey in jail, when Harvey was awaiting trial on prior murder charges. Judge John Addison Howard had told Scott not to mention that Harvey had been in jail, because information about prior unrelated crimes is not admissible.

Court records show Harvey was charged with first-degree murder in 2011 for the fatal shooting of 24-year-old Randol Buncombe in Cherry Hill. He was found not guilty by a jury on Jan. 31, 2013, just four months before Carter Scott's killing.

In March of this year, Harvey was charged again in Buncombe's killing, this time in U.S. District Court, as part of a conspiracy alleging six killings and nine shootings by a Cherry Hill neighborhood crew that calls itself "Up Da Hill."

Howard conferred with attorneys about how to address Scott's remark about Harvey's prior charge and decided to only instruct the jurors to disregard it.

The Scott trial was preceded by an unusually long jury selection process and interrupted by court closures because of the unrest following the death of Freddie Gray, a man who died of injuries sustained in police custody.

jfenton@baltsun.com

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