Two teens fatally gunned down in Atlantic City in 2008 were victims of “street justice,” Assistant Prosecutor Dave Ruffenach charged Tuesday during opening statements in the trial of the accused killer.
Kory McClary, now 27, “acted as judge, jury and executioner” when he drove by a residence on North Ohio and Marmora avenues at about 5:45 p.m. June 22, 2008, gunning for two teens he believed robbed him, Ruffenach told the jurors. Michael Nelson, 15, and Phillip Fano, 19, each was shot in the head and pronounced dead the next day.
But no physical evidence ties McClary to the crime scene or to two earlier shootings said to be related, defense attorney Robert Gamburg told the eight men and seven women of the jury. “Not a shred of physical evidence.”
Nelson, and then-15-year-old friend David Hood Jr., both of Atlantic City, allegedly robbed McClary of “a few stacks,” testified David Stoudimire, who shared a cell with McClary when both were jailed in Chilton County, Ala., shortly after the shootings. A “stack,” he said, is slang for $1,000.
Ruffenach said McClary fled to Alabama after the killings. But Gamburg said his client went there to talk to a lawyer because he heard he was going to be charged “in two homicides he didn’t do.”
Less than 24 hours before Nelson was found shot in the head inside a car, his home on the 500 block of Drexel Avenue had been shot up. A few minutes before that, the Hood family’s Caspian Avenue home was also shot at, with one bullet shattering a shower door.
Lisa Hood told police David Jr. was not home but had been getting into trouble and been kicked out a few days before, Ruffenach said. She also said two men — one now said to be McClary — came to David Sr.’s barbershop looking for their son.
Atlantic City Detective Neil Kane testified Tuesday that he told the teen’s parents it was important to find their son and to find out what happened.
“We didn’t want to see David get killed,” Kane testified.
The next day, Hood Jr. was able to run away when a car drove by the 1000 block of Ohio Avenue and someone began shooting. But Nelson and Fano were not able to get away.
Nelson was found inside a car, shot in the head. Under his seat was a loaded handgun. Fano was shot on the sidewalk and the car he came from his home in Hammonton in also had a weapon inside, Ruffenach said: a loaded machine gun in the trunk.
After the killings, David Hood Jr. gave little information to police and refused to have a statement recorded, Kane testified.
A few years later, after a break in the case, Kane and another investigator went to Maine to again interview Hood Jr., who was now in college.
“It didn’t go well,” Kane testified. “He complained to his mother and his mother went to Internal Affairs on us.”
Stoudimire, who shared a cell with McClary, said the man he called “Jersey” told him about “a young punk” who robbed him that McClary then “(expletive) up.”
The man also said McClary worried about a woman who could tie him to the case: “He said, ‘That (expletive) can’t make it to trial because she knew who he was'.”
That woman is apparently Cathy Cruz, one of two women who were standing on a porch when Nelson’s home on the 500 block of Drexel Avenue was shot up the night before the killings. She picked McClary out of a photo array after the killings and is expected to testify.
But Gamburg cautioned the jurors to listen to what she said before looking at the six separate photos that were in the array: “I know who it was. It was redheaded Phil.”
“Red,” Stoudimire later said, was a man McClary described as his brother.
“Didn’t (McClary) tell you Red did all this?” Gamburg asked.
“No,” Stoudimire replied.
Stoudimire said he worried about the woman he didn’t know whom he believed would be a target for murder. But Gamburg pointed out that Stoudimire never mentioned anything until police came to him months later.
“You were so worried she was going to get killed by this cold-blooded murderer ... that you waited five months?” the attorney asked.
“They came to me,” Stoudimire replied.
In addition to murder, McClary is charged with conspiracy, six counts of aggravated assault and weapons offenses. He is jailed on $1 million full cash bail. If convicted, he faces life in prison.
The state will continue presenting witnesses today before Superior Court Judge Bernard DeLury. The trial is expected to last two weeks.
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