GOSHEN — The victim of a June 2018 shooting in central Elkhart told a jury Tuesday it was a case of mistaken identity when his alleged attacker fired at him four times.
Byron Harris, 16, is on trial this week for attempted murder, a Level 1 felony that carries a penalty of up to 40 years in prison. He’s accused of shooting a man in the leg outside River Run Apartments June 11, which shattered his femur and required two months in the hospital.
The victim testified that he’ll have a metal rod in his leg for the rest of his life. He said he came to Elkhart from Chicago because he thought it would be safer.
He recalled how Harris confronted him the day before the shooting, accusing him of stealing something from him. The stolen item was a game, according to a juvenile court judge’s decision waiving Harris to adult court.
The victim said Harris thought he was someone else, another man in Elkhart who he strongly resembled. He said he had dreadlocks at the time, which helped the resemblance.
“I told him I’m not the person he was looking for,” he said. “He said he was gonna shoot the dude who robbed him. I said I’m not the dude, I might look like the dude but I’m not him.”
He said a friend of Harris backed him up during the exchange, but Harris wasn’t satisfied with that. When Harris saw him again the next day, standing near a playground at the apartments, the 16-year-old ducked behind a car and opened fire.
“I got shot for no reason,” the victim said. “I just know Byron Harris shot me.”
He was standing with two women at the time, both of whom were closely acquainted with the man Harris mistook him for. He said he didn’t feel anything at first, but when he realized he had been shot he ran into the building and up the stairs.
He pounded on doors at the top of the stairs until a woman in one of the apartments answered. Then he fell to the ground.
He didn’t have a clear recollection of the next few days, only being in a lot of pain while lying in a hospital bed. He didn’t remember telling the police that Harris shot him, though Deputy Elkhart County Prosecutor Susan Snyder insisted he had.
The victim said he did later pick Harris out of a photo lineup.
The jury saw security camera footage of the incident, showing four men walking on the sidewalk outside the apartment building. One of them is seen walking backwards, causing him to stumble momentarily on the hood of a parked car, then he ducks between two vehicles and makes some movements with his arms before running away.
Sgt. Dustin Young with the Elkhart Police Department identified that man as Harris. He pointed out where the man appears to pull a gun out of his waistband, pull back the slide to chamber a round, then fire three or four times.
The juvenile court judge noted in her order that Harris couldn’t be identified from that footage alone, but she emphasized that Harris was identified by his victim.
Harris’s attorney, Jeffrey Majerek, asked the victim if he was really shot twice, saying the medical report only mentions one gunshot wound. The victim said he was told he’d been shot twice when he was rushed in to surgery.
Majerek questioned whether Harris didn’t stumble on the car because he was surprised by something the victim or the women standing with him said. The man said he didn’t exchange any words with Harris, though Harris did say something directed at one of the women, and he said neither he nor the women were armed.
Majerek also pointed out that Harris could have shot and killed the victim when he was standing closer, if he wanted to.
“He had the opportunity to shoot you point-blank,” he said. “If he wanted to kill you, couldn’t he have done it right there?”
Snyder then asked whether shots fired from closer to the parked cars couldn’t also have potentially been fatal.
“He could have killed you when he shot near the car?” she asked. “He didn’t throw a marshmallow at you?”