Felon denies knowing about slayings in 2009; prosecution, defense rest

Charles Young
Charles Young

A key prosecution witness told a jury Wednesday he falsely implicated two Baton Rouge men in the alleged murder-for-hire of a Denham Springs couple in January 2009 because police threatened him and he told them what they wanted to hear.

Tyrus McDowell’s testimony at Charles Young’s second-degree murder trial directly contradicted what he said to detectives in a January 2009 videotaped statement — that he saw Young get into Dustin and Beth Duncan’s white van moments before it crashed into a tree on Canonicus Street.

“I never told no detective I seen Charles Young kill nobody,” McDowell, 33, said while being questioned Wednesday by East Baton Rouge Parish Assistant District Attorney Tracey Barbera. “I was nowhere around when that happened. I hang on the other side of town.”

Barbera had forewarned jurors a day earlier that McDowell, after implicating Young and Cedrick Kelly in the double-murder, signed an affidavit on March 20, 2009, stating everything he told police two months earlier was untrue.

Barbera contends Kelly paid Young to kill the couple because Dustin Duncan was scheduled to testify against Kelly at a drug trial in Baton Rouge in March 2009. Kelly had allegedly sold Dustin Duncan a rock of crack cocaine on Aug. 11, 2008, in the 3500 block of Alliquippa Street.

Before Barbera rested the case she began laying out Tuesday, homicide detectives Ross Williams and Elvin Howard both denied Wednesday pressuring, coercing or threatening McDowell.

McDowell said the detectives threatened to charge him with possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. He said the gun they found when they stopped him two days after the double-murder was not his. McDowell also said the detectives raised the possibility that he could be charged as an accessory to the killings.

McDowell, a convicted and imprisoned felon with additional pending drug charges, insisted he gave truthful testimony Wednesday while also acknowledging his desire not to be perceived as a snitch.

“I ain’t no rat. I got to live on the streets,” he said.

Young’s attorney, Gail Ray, also rested the defense’s case Wednesday. She did not call Young, 25, of Baton Rouge, to the stand.

Barbera and Ray will give their closing arguments Thursday morning, and the jury will begin its closed-door deliberations after state District Judge Richard Anderson gives his final instructions to the panel.

Young is charged with two counts of second-degree murder. He faces an automatic sentence of life in prison if found guilty as charged. Dustin Duncan, 23, and Beth Duncan, 20, each were shot twice in the head.

Ray called just one witness, a woman whose sister lived on Canonicus Street at the time of the Jan. 7, 2009, double-murder. The woman, Toya Magee, said she passed along information to police that a house on Canonicus across the street from her sister’s home was armed with a video surveillance system.

Williams, who noted that some surveillance cameras do not record but merely allow a person to watch what is happening on a computer, said he could not recall ever requesting any tapes from the home that Magee told police about. Williams noted, however, that the slayings of the Duncans occurred at night.

In a Jan. 9, 2009, videotaped statement played in court Wednesday, McDowell told Williams and Howard that Young told him he shot Beth Duncan first, then her husband before the couple’s van slammed into a tree.

“Ced paid Charles to kill them — a thousand dollars a head,” McDowell told the detectives while denying he was at the scene of the crime.

But in a Jan. 14, 2009, videotaped statement also shown to the jury, McDowell conceded he was there and saw Young climb into the couple’s van.

“I heard the van hit the tree,” McDowell told homicide detectives Chris Johnson and Howard, adding that he did not hear the gunshots.

When the detectives asked how long it took for the van to hit the tree after Young got into the vehicle, McDowell replied, “It wasn’t that long.”

In his testimony Wednesday, McDowell said any information he had about the double-murder was picked up from the streets.

“The streets was talking, so that’s what I was hearing,” he said. “Charles Young never told me about no hit.”

McDowell also told police he saw Young get into Kelly’s brown Suburban after the Duncans’ van hit the tree, but he denied Wednesday making such a statement.

“Do you want to be here today?” Barbera asked him.

“Not really,” McDowell answered.

Prosecutors dismissed second-degree murder charges against Kelly, 32, in August 2011. Barbera has said the charges could be refiled.

A charge of possession with intent to distribute cocaine against Kelly was dismissed in January 2012. That charge dealt with the cocaine he allegedly sold to Dustin Duncan.