MAYS LANDING-Zachary Taylor died over a woman.
But whether the aspiring rapper was the aggressor killed in self-defense, or a victim led into an ambush, is for a judge to decide.
Hasan and Jamal Bruce, two Atlantic City brothers, went on trial for murder Monday in the June 18, 2012, fatal shooting of Taylor, 19 — who rapped under the moniker Zooty Bang.
At 9:12 that night, Taylor got a call from Hasan Bruce’s cell phone. Four minutes later, a 911 call led police to McKinley Avenue, where Taylor was lying in the street with two gunshot wounds. Next to him was a gun covered in his blood.
“Four minutes later, he was dead,” Assistant Prosecutor Danielle Buckley said.
Taylor and Jamal Bruce had gotten into an argument over a girl who worked at a local fast-food restaurant.
Things seemed rectified after Jamal Bruce confronted Taylor earlier that day, Buckley said. But the brothers were coming for him, according to the prosecutor.
That is not the case, the defense asserted.
“Mr. Taylor, the evidence is going to show, brought this on himself,” Hasan Bruce’s attorney, Robert Gamburg, said.
After receiving the call from Hasan Bruce, Taylor became so enraged that his friends tried to hide his gun from him, Gamburg said.
“In the rap industry, disrespect is punishable by death,” he said, adding that “When a person comes out you with deadly force, you can respond with deadly force.”
Buckley said Taylor never drew his gun. Instead, Hasan Bruce saw him, pulled out his gun and shot once at close range, hitting Taylor in the neck. The victim then turned, and was struck in the back.
That, she said, is when Taylor dropped his gun.
“You know why the gun was on the ground covered in his blood?” asked David Bahuriak, Jamal Bruce’s attorney. "Because it was in his hand when he was shot."
Taylor’s gun was ready to shoot when it was found, Detective Neil Kane testified.
Jamal Bruce wasn’t even involved in the shooting, Bahuriak said, pointing out that his client was the only one of the three unarmed.
“Do you know why?” he asked Superior Court Judge Albert Garofolo. “Because it wasn’t his fight. He didn’t have a relationship with this woman. It was a fight over nothing. Over some girl who works at Popeye’s.”
The younger brother was a just a hard worker who was the misfortune of being there when the fight boiled over, Bahuriak said.
The brothers opted to have a trial decided by a judge rather than a jury, a rarity in murder cases.
"We believe a jury may be swayed by emotion rather than facts," Gamburg said as he put the waiver of a jury trial on the record.
Hasan Bruce has been jailed on $1 million since his arrest in September. He was in his orange jail garb at trial, something that is not allowed to happen before a jury so as not to prejudice them. But in this case, the judge is aware the defendant is incarcerated.
Jamal Bruce has been free on $150,000 bail, which was lowered last year. Since then, he was arrested on drug charges, but bailed out then as well. He was in a suit Monday.
At least one state witness will also be in jailhouse orange, Buckley told the judge.
Bahuriak worked to separate the two brothers at the first day of trial, objecting even to Kane’s referral to “they,” when discussing the suspects.
Hasan Bruce was a suspect from the beginning, according to testimony.
Video surveillance from various locations showed his flight as he ran to his home on North Indiana Avenue. There, the pair’s mother allowed police to search the residence less than two hours after the shooting.
When police first surrounded the home, a shirtless Hasan was outside trying to jump the fence, Buckley said. Without being told why police were there, he allegedly told them: “I didn’t shoot no one.”
Inside the home, the shirt the suspect was described as wearing was found, along with a bulletproof vest.
The defense objected to mention of that, since there was no proof the vest was worn at the time of the shooting.
Also on a bed was a cell phone plugged into the wall that was playing the Atlantic City police scanner feed through an app.
Trial will continue Tuesday before Garofolo.