MAYS LANDING - Tyree Kelly testified he was doing a friend a favor when he cleaned two guns used in a fatal Pleasantville home invasion and then tried to get rid of them - only to have police take him into custody.
Jeremiah Jackson, 21, of Atlantic City, is on trial on a murder charge in the killing of Ellis Spell inside the man's East Thompson Avenue home Dec. 9, 2011.
Kelly, who agreed to testify for the prosecution and has not been charged in the case, said that the day after the killing, he met his friend Jackson at a barbershop, at the defendant's request.
"Did you watch the news?" Jackson asked, according to Kelly. "Did you hear about the guy who got killed in Pleasantville?"
When he said he hadn't, Jackson told him one more thing: "He said, 'I did it,'" Kelly testified.
Kelly took a long pause before giving that answer Thursday, rubbing his face and sniffling several times as he testified against Jackson.
"Do you want to be here today?" Assistant Prosecutor Seth Levy asked.
"No, sir," Kelly replied. "It's just real tough."
The state alleges Jackson and two unidentified others - described to him, Kelly said, only as an older man and a younger one - tried to break into Spell's home, when the man got in their way.
As Spell tried to keep the men out at his back door, a shotgun dropped, and Jackson was struck by a shell that went through his thumb, Kelly said he was told.
That's when the .22-caliber revolver gun went off and Spell, 51, was struck twice.
"Did (Jackson) say he shot Ellis Spell?" Levy asked.
"I'm not 100 percent sure whether he said that or not," Kelly replied. "He said he was shot and it hit him in his hand and the gun went off. I pictured in my head that that meant he had the gun."
But Levy later pointed to Kelly's statement to police in which he said Jackson shot the gun.
That initial statement included Kelly saying he was taking the guns to the police station, where he was going to leave them anonymously, he admitted under cross-examination.
Defense attorney Robert Gamburg raised many questions about "lies" in what Kelly told police.
But those were "prior to the agreement," Kelly told Gamburg.
That agreement was that, if Kelly told police what happened, he wouldn't be charged.
"Instead of looking at this time, you can tell us the truth," Kelly said he was told.
As a favor to his friend, Kelly testified, he agreed to clean and get rid of the guns, which he said Jackson left in a closet of Kelly's Buzby Village home in Atlantic City.
He doesn't know how they got there, he said, but the apartment never was locked.
Kelly said he recognized the shotgun, because it was one a friend had left at his home before.
He also had seen the .22-caliber murder weapon. Kelly said Jackson showed it to him, and that he examined it at the time because he thought the long-nosed revolver seemed too big to be only a .22.
During cross-examination, Kelly agreed he had pictures on his phone of him with the shotgun and other guns, but not the murder weapon.
Kelly testified he planned to take the guns to Philadelphia, to a place a friend was supposed to set up. Instead, that man notified police.
When Gamburg asked Kelly if the real reason he was getting rid of the guns was because he was protecting himself, Kelly replied: "I didn't commit the crime."
Kelly said he was with his then-girlfriend in Camden County the night of the killing, a Friday, then came home Saturday to return his daughter, which is when he called Jackson, who asked him to meet up at the barbershop. Records show he purchased a train ticket to Camden on Friday.
He then went back to the woman, who testified she was with him the whole time, until she drove him to the train station Monday morning.
The defense has admitted Jackson was shot inside the house, but denies he was the one who killed Ellis.
Closing arguments are expected Monday morning. Jackson told Superior Court Judge Mark Sandson that he does not plan to testify in his own defense.
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