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Brunson: Ames told him to shoot teen

Ames.JPG.JPG

Kamani Ames

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By William F. West
Staff Writer

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

CAMDEN — A Perquimans County man already serving a life sentence for the murder of an Elizabeth City teen testified Wednesday that it was another defendant in the case who told him to fatally shoot the teen.

Nahcier Brunson, 21, pleaded guilty last September to first-degree murder in the death of 17-year-old Unique Graham, admitting he fired the gun that killed the teenager at Causeway Park in September 2015.

However, on the witness stand in Kamani Ames’ first-degree murder trial in Camden Superior Court on Wednesday, Brunson testified it was Ames who told him to shoot Graham. 

Brunson’s testimony was at odds with the opening statements about the case by Ames’ court-appointed attorney. John Bramble told jurors on Tuesday that Ames didn't know in advance Brunson was going to shoot Graham.

Brunson, who is serving a life sentence in state prison, told jurors that he didn't make any deal with prosecutors in exchange for his testimony against Ames.

In his testimony in court Wednesday, Brunson said that the evening before Graham was killed, Ames wanted him to go with him to Currituck County to pick up belongings from his broken-down car. Brunson said Ames picked him up in Ames’ mother’s car and they drove to Currituck. When they arrived at the car, Ames removed clothes and a bookbag from the vehicle, Brunson testified. Ames also retrieved a handgun that he then handed to him, Brunson said.

Brunson testified that he rode with Ames back to Elizabeth City to pick up Graham. He said Ames’ plan was for the three of them to conduct a robbery. Bramble, Ames’ attorney, has maintained, however, that the idea for the robbery was Brunson’s. 

Instead of performing the robbery, however, Brunson said the three men ended up hanging out at Causeway Park where he and Ames started smoking marijuana.

Brunson said that as the three men were walking back to Ames' mother's car, Graham began messing with his face. He testified that Ames then tapped him on the leg and told him to shoot Graham.

Brunson testified that after he shot Graham, he and Ames stopped by a McDonald's restaurant for food and a convenience store for gas before they drove to Ames' mother's house in Perquimans County. Brunson said Ames told him he would take care of the gun used to shoot Graham.

A passer-by found Graham’s body just off Causeway Park’s boardwalk the morning of Sept. 28, 2015. The park is in Camden County, but because the park is an area annexed by Elizabeth City, the city police department began investigating Graham’s death.

Brunson acknowledged during his testimony Wednesday that he initially told Elizabeth City police he had only heard of Graham being shot before eventually confessing he pulled the trigger.

Also testifying Wednesday was Sgt. Eddie Graham of the Elizabeth City Police Department. Graham, a city police detective in 2015, told the jury he and a chaplain went to inform Unique Graham's mother of her son's death.

Sgt. Graham testified that while he was Unique Graham’s house, he learned there had been past trouble between Ames and Unique Graham. He also learned the two teens had taken out criminal complaints against each other in previous disputes.

Even though their disagreement apparently had been resolved, Ames became a person of interest in Elizabeth City police’s investigation of Unique Graham's death, Sgt. Graham testified. Police began focusing on Ames' mother's house in Perquimans and obtained a warrant to search the property, he said.

Also testifying on Wednesday was John Young, a former deputy police chief who then was a captain in the department. Young testified that as he was searching the yard at Ames’ mother’s house, he found an area where the grass appeared to have been knocked down. He went over and discovered an access panel to the crawlspace under the house. Underneath the house, Young said he discovered a black piece of cloth. Young said he then called over Leroy Owen, at the time a crime scene investigator for the department, who pulled out the cloth and discovered a silver and black 9-mm handgun.

Owen, who also testified on Wednesday, showed the jury a black T-shirt, as well as the firearm and a gun magazine he found. Owen said a records check didn't show the firearm had been stolen. He also said a state crime laboratory check for DNA evidence came back inclusive.

Young and Owen also testified that while they and other police officers were at Erp’s truck stop, waiting to visit Ames' mother's house, a man who turned out to be Brunson came peddling by on a bicycle. Brunson would subsequently be questioned by police.

During his testimony, Sgt. Graham told jurors that Ames showed up at the police department the day after Graham’s death and, wanting to clear his name, started talking with police Detective Grace Bray. Graham said he then began talking with Ames in what would become a series of lengthy interviews.

Graham said Ames maintained that while all three teens were at Causeway Park, Brunson told him to wait behind Unique Graham as he pulled out a handgun and fatally shot him. Ames later gave a contradictory statement, however, in which he claimed not to have seen Brunson shoot Unique Graham, the police sergeant testified.

Graham said he learned from Ames that the murder suspect had a photo of a handgun in his cellphone that had been taken before the shooting. After Ames was shown the handgun recovered from his mother’s residence, he confirmed it was the same gun pictured in his cellphone photo, Graham said.

Testimony in the trial is expected to continue today. The trial started on Tuesday afternoon after a jury of nine men and three women was empaneled. Judge Jerry Tillett is the presiding judge.

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