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First witness testifies about Grape Street murders

Defense in Grape St murder delays opening statement
Posted at 12:11 PM, Jan 09, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-09 18:36:18-05

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — Emotions running high during the non-jury trial of the man accused of killing a Buffalo woman and her 17-month old grandson.

Kenyatta “Manny” Austin is accused of killing Yvette Johnson, 54, and her grandson Kyrie.

Austin faces eight charges including two counts of intentional murder.

The brother and great uncle of the two victims was first to testify, delivering powerful testimony.

Darren Works was holding his great nephew in his arms when they were all shot outside his sister's grape street home just after midnight July 2, 2018.

Works testified that they were behind his sister's car, where she had park in front of her Grape Street home and then they heard gunfire erupted from what they think was the side of the house.

Works told the court he heard what sounded like “pops” and “booms” after they returned from celebrating his sister's birthday at MLK Park. He was struck in the leg; the baby and his sister were killed.

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Family members emerged from courtroom Thursday.

Works still holding the child, initially not realizing the baby was hit by bullets. Work said he saw another nephew standing over his sister testifying quote "trying to put blood back in her".

A family member in the courtroom began to sob when she heard that testimony.

The defense delayed their opening statements. The defense team asked the judge for more time to examine more documents and get a look at the original file of an 8½-hour interrogation video.

Defense attorney James Auricchio says they believe the witness was coached.

He says at one point the witness stated he quote "kinda knew why we were going over there" referring to the night of the shootings.

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Defense attorney James Auricchio outside of courtroom spoke with reporters.

“It's significant in as much as it puts that person in a completely different light then what the police made him out to be. He could be somebody who's credibility questionable because he could be the person that's responsible for this and could be pinning our client with his own acts,” Auricchio told reporters outside the courtroom.

Much back and forth took place leading to this decision with the defense telling the prosecution at one point, "The prosecution does not get to tell me (the defense) how to do my job and I don't tell the prosecution how to do their job".

The judge decided to allow the defense to deliver its opening statement Monday giving them time to review the video.

The prosecution went forward Thursday with opening remarks. Assistant District Attorney Ashley Morgan stated how a "celebration" was turned to "devastation" for the Johnson family. The prosecutor said the family was "ambushed" by a "hail of bullets."

"No one was spared. No one was safe," Morgan said. The prosecutor referred to the shootings as "senseless street violence".

Morgan stating Austin’s girlfriend told police that when he returned to their home in Niagara Falls the night of the shooting, his car was damaged by gunfire.

Prosecutors also pointed out that police found an SKS semi-automatic rifle along with 12-rounds of ammunition and latex gloves found in Austin’s dresser.

The prosecution says it will present evidence showing Austin's DNA was recovered on a make-shift sling used on the weapon. Morgan also telling the courtroom in opening statements that Austin was also overheard "bragging about the shootings".

The prosecutor indicating other evidence that will be presented during this trial including cellphone records indicating he was in the city of Buffalo on the night of the shootings near Grape Street. While no motive has been stated in the case, Morgan said their case will prove that the "defendant did not act alone."

“It will be interesting to see how they attempt to prove it. There’s a lot of witnesses, but not all of them saw a whole lot and they still have to connect our client to the crimes,” remarked Robert Goldstein, defense attorney.

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Robert Goldstein, defense attorney, speaking with reporters.

Auricchio was asked why the defendant waived a jury trial and opted for a bench trial in which the judge will render the verdict. He said it would cut back on the emotional impact.

"We’re very sympathetic to the fact that a young child was lost here and this is a tragedy and no one disputes that, and it’s difficult to get around that emotional aspect of the case," Auricchio stated.

The trial will resume Monday morning, January 13. The defense will begin with an opening statement, then prosecutors will resume calling witnesses.

Here are the eight charges Austin was indicted on:

· Two counts of intentional Murder in the Second Degree

· Two counts of depraved indifference Murder in the Second Degree

· Two counts of Assault in the Second Degree

· One count of Reckless Endangerment in the First Degree

· One count of Criminal Possession of a Weapon in the Second Degree