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In Closing Remarks, Prosecutors Push Back On Self-Defense Claims In Bloomington Killings

Hammet Brown
Bloomington Police Department

“A developing, festering rivalry” led Hammet Brown to fire the bullets that killed two people and wounded two others at a June 2018 party, Brown’s lawyer said in closing remarks on Wednesday at Brown’s bench trial.

Brown is accused of killing Taneshiea Brown and Steven Alexander and wounding two others during the party at an Orchard Road apartment complex.

Alexander and several others “followed him, tracked him for six weeks and finally got him cornered,” Brown's attorney, Mark Zalcman, said of the encounter between the men.

The 1 a.m. meeting at a party that attracted 40 to 50 guests “was the perfect time to ambush” Brown, said Zalcman.

Zalcman admitted his client “carries guns and breaks the law,” but Brown “is not a killer and not a murderer,” said the attorney.

Zalcman asked Judge Casey Costigan to consider second-degree murder charges instead of first-degree charges, based on Brown’s claim of self-defense.

Assistant State’s Attorney Mary Koll described Brown in her closing arguments as “paranoid and obsessed with guns.” On the night of the shooting, he was “armed, jumpy and looking for a fight,” she said.

Brown’s conduct after the slaying was not the behavior of a person who acted in self-defense, said Koll. Surveillance video from a local bar showed Brown drinking 30 minutes after the incident. He later traveled to Chicago, Indiana and Ohio before being arrested in Chicago. 

Brown’s decision to open fire at the party did not meet the legal standard for self-defense, Koll argued.

“The defendant saw Steven Alexander as a rival, a threat to his business,” she said.

Zalcman closed his case Wednesday with testimony from Brown’s friend, Duane Martin, who recalled how he and the defendant felt about Alexander after he reportedly fired shots at Brown in May 2018.

“There was a brief time where we were both angry. We found out through mutual people who was involved,” said Martin. “We decided to let it go. We decided to leave it alone.”

As far as Martin was concerned, no retaliation was planned by Brown against Alexander.

“He never made me believe after we decided to let it go that he was going to have revenge,” said Martin, who is serving seven years on weapons charges.

During another confrontation with Alexander and other members of The 200’s street gang, it was Brown who displayed a weapon, according to Martin. Prosecutor Mary Lawson asked Martin to confirm a comment from Brown that being chased by the gang members made him “thirsty,” a street term meaning someone who is eager to shoot someone. 

Last week, the 29-year-old defendant testified at his bench trial, claiming he fired the multiple rounds after he was threatened by Alexander. According to Brown, the victim was a member of the street gang that took issue with Brown selling marijuana on their drug turf.

In a dramatic move during his testimony, Brown stepped down from the witness stand and re-enacted how he pulled a handgun from his pocket and began firing toward Alexander and others.

When the two men met in a grassy cutaway near the 1200 block of the complex, Alexander told Brown, “I finally got you,” according to the defendant’s testimony.

Brown showed how he slowly raised his gun, firing several rounds, as he backed away from Alexander.

“If I had not “upped” my gun and fired it, I would have been dead,” said Brown.

Koll questioned Brown about prior run-ins he claims he had with Alexander and others in which shots were fired in his direction. Brown said he told police about one incident after he was stopped by officers for speeding.

Brown admitted he lied during a jailhouse phone call after police caught up with him in Chicago following the shooting. He lied about being in a laundry room of the building having sex with someone when gunfire broke out. 

The gun Brown used in the shooting – one of three stolen firearms he purchased from a woman – was tossed in a river along Interstate 55, according to his testimony.

Asked why he approached Alexander during the party, Brown said, “to resolve the matter peacefully.”

Nicole Tinker, a woman who was in bed and heard two sets of gun shots outside her window, testified for the defense. 

“I heard shots, then I heard someone screaming, ‘Get the gun, get the gun,'” said Tinker.

Zalcman argued the woman may have heard rounds fired at Brown. It is possible Alexander “died from a friendly fire shot,” the defense lawyer said in his closing. The state asked the judge to dismiss the defense theory that multiple guns were fired during the incident.

Costigan is scheduled to announce his verdict at a Feb. 22 hearing.

Edith began her career as a reporter with The DeWitt County Observer, a weekly newspaper in Clinton. From 2007 to June 2019, Edith covered crime and legal issues for The Pantagraph, a daily newspaper in Bloomington, Illinois. She previously worked as a correspondent for The Pantagraph covering courts and local government issues in central Illinois.
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