A Uniondale man has been arrested on a second-degree murder charge, accused of being behind the wheel during a June drive-by shooting in Hempstead that killed a teenager and wounded three men standing outside, according to the authorities.
At an arraignment Wednesday, the man, Laron Watts, 22, was ordered jailed without bail in the death of the teen, whom Nassau County police identified as Jaden Omaree Johnson, according to Nicole Turso, a spokeswoman for the county District Attorney's Office.
Under New York law, being an accessory to a murder can subject a person to the same penalties as if he did the killing himself.
Watts' attorney, Anthony Grandinette, of Mineola, said: "he did not personally injure or kill anyone. I am confident that when the facts come out he will be exonerated of the allegations against him.”
Others involved in the shooting — including the suspected shooters themselves — haven't been caught, according to a copy of the charging document provided by Turso.
No motive was disclosed.
The shooting happened June 4 at about 10:10 p.m. near 77 Terrance Ave., a block of apartment buildings, according to a police news release. optional trim here/Watts is accused of picking up the would-be shooters near 72 Maple Ave. in a blue Mazda, according to the charging document. That's about a 5-minute drive south.
The document says, "he drove past the location where Jaden Johnson and others were located. Defendant continued driving around the block and drove the vehicle to the listed location a second time, where he slowed the vehicle down while unapprehended others fired at least two firearms and fired multiple rounds at the group outside, where Jaden Johnson was standing, striking Jaden Johnson and killing him. Defendant then fled from the listed place of occurrence at a high rate of speed."
The document didn't provide the basis for that information. Grandinette declined to comment on whether Watts denies being behind the wheel and what if anything Watts knew about the shooters' intentions.
The 19-year-old was pronounced dead at 10:54 p.m. at a hospital. Also wounded was a 23-year-old from Hempstead, who was shot in the ankle; a 35-year-old from Westbury, who was shot in the leg; and a 31-year-old from Hempstead, who was shot in the thigh. The three survived, a police news release said at the time.
At least 10 "spent/shell casings" were later found by the police, the document says.
Johnson’s great-grandmother, Mattie Bettis, 87, now of Red Lion, Pennsylvania, who helped raise him in her house in Hempstead on Hudson Place until he was about 10 years old, told Newsday that her great-grandson was a “sweet kid.”
“He was very humble. He had been baptized at Antioch Baptist Church. He loved to go to church, and he was humble, and I think Jaden may have been shot down because the boys wanted him to join the gang, and he refused. That’s what I believe happened,” she recalled: “I loved him and he loved me.”
His grandmother, Yvonne Bettis, 58, of Hempstead, was in court for Watts' arraignment. She said her sister is married to the defendant’s uncle — his mother’s brother.
“Laron’s uncle was also Jaden’s uncle," she said. "It’s bad.”
“No one should bury their 19-year-old grandson. I will never unsee my grandson laying on that table not breathing,” she said, adding of who’s been arrested: “And it shouldn’t be a family member that’s involved.”
The case, which was heard Wednesday before Judge Vincent Muscarella of First District Court, is due back in court Aug. 25.