KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Jurors in a murder trial involving the 2015 death of a Tennessee high school football player who shielded friends from gunfire heard an interview Monday in which one defendant tells police he fired shots in the air without aiming at anyone that night.
Members of the jury saw Knoxville police violent crimes investigator A.J. Loeffler’s interview with Christopher Drone Bassett on the night 15-year-old Zaevion Dobson died. Bassett, Kipling Deshawn Colbert and Richard Gregory Williams III face first-degree murder charges.
Bassett initially denied accompanying cousin Brandon Perry to the Lonsdale area of Knoxville where Dobson was shot but eventually said he saw Perry fire shots, got scared and later fired “maybe five” shots in the air.
Perry died in a separate shooting later that night. In his interview with Loeffler, Bassett said Perry had been angry because his mother — Bassett’s aunt — had been shot earlier in the day.
According to the state’s case, the handgun that fired the bullet that killed Dobson was found under Williams’ seat during a January 2016 traffic stop, though Williams wasn’t driving the car. Prosecutors have said at least 34 shots were fired by multiple people in the Dec. 17, 2015, attack that resulted in Dobson’s death.
In his interview with Loeffler, Bassett said he started running when he realized what Perry was doing. Bassett later acknowledged firing shots up in the air but added that “I didn’t aim” at anyone and that “I was real-life scared.”
Bassett also noted in the interview that he had a hand injury that prevented him from shooting much.
T. Scott Jones, the lawyer representing Bassett, cited the lack of references to any gang-related connection to the shootings in the interview. Prosecutors have said there was a series of gang-related shootings that occurred in Knoxville that night.
“If you thought this was gang activity, certainly as a seasoned investigator, you would have asked somebody those questions, wouldn’t you?” Jones asked Loeffler.
Jones had said in his opening statement that he believed the incidents weren’t gang-related and instead stemmed from a dispute between Perry and the father of his girlfriend’s child.
Knox County Assistant District Attorney Phil Morton said in his opening statement last week that Dobson and his friends had gathered on a back porch after attending an evening high school basketball game when some people approached them and started shooting. Morton described Dobson as a “protector” and added that neither he nor his friends had any idea why people were shooting. The two girls Dobson shielded were unhurt.
After his death, Dobson was praised by then-President Barack Obama for his bravery in shielding his two friends. Dobson, who had played football at Knoxville’s Fulton High School, posthumously received the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the 2016 ESPYs.
By STEVE MEGARGEE
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