Durham judge denies bail for suspect in killing

Second man sought might not have been using the car police initially suspected

Staff WritersJuly 8, 2006 

— A judge kept one suspect in a quadruple shooting behind bars Friday, and police, still searching for a second man, found out he might not have been driving the car they thought he was using.

Darien Jarrod Taylor, 20, was wanted on a warrant for murder and three counts of felony assault. Authorities think that Taylor and Justin Lamont Perry, 18, walked up to the porch of a home on Gray Avenue and opened fire, hitting four men. One of those men, Joseph Towah, 18, died hours after the Wednesday afternoon violence.

The other victims, named in court documents, were Courtney Steele, Kevin Simmons and Quartez McRae. Efforts to reach them failed.

Perry, who surrendered early Thursday, appeared in the jailhouse courtroom Friday morning. District Court Judge James Hill granted his request for a court-appointed lawyer. No family or friends were in the courtroom on Perry's behalf during the brief hearing.

Assistant Public Defender Martin Broadway consulted with Perry for a few moments before asking the judge to set a bail amount.

"He's actually not even from here," Broadway said. "He did not even know any of the victims in this case."

Hill refused, saying that the case could be eligible for the death penalty. Under state law, prosecutors can seek the death penalty if a homicide also leaves others injured. Perry's next court date is set for the week of July 17.

On Friday, investigators spoke to the owner of the green Honda Civic they thought Taylor had been driving and determined the suspect was not using it at the time, Durham Police Department spokeswoman Kammie Michael said. She also said Taylor has unspecified connections in Virginia and might have fled to that state.

Police have not discussed a motive for the shooting but said it appeared to be gang-related. However, Toe Towah said his younger brother was not in a gang, but he had friends who were.

"He was a cheerful person with a good smile," said Mildred Exum, who lives at the house where the shooting occurred. "You couldn't help but love him."

Before the shooting, the four teenagers who were wounded checked on Exum, who suffers from debilitating medical conditions.

Joseph Towah -- a Liberian native who immigrated to the United States in 1998 -- would have been a senior at Jordan High School.

He had hoped to attend college and dreamed of someday opening a barbershop, said Merton Pajibo, who mentored Towah for five years at People's Christian Church.

Towah, who also used the last name Torh, had recent troubles. In October, he was arrested and charged with simple affray and second-degree trespass after a fight at Riverside High School. Prosecutors had allowed him into a first-offenders program, which would have given him a chance to put the incident behind him and avoid a criminal record.

Several months ago, Pajibo had stopped seeing Joseph Towah at church and had started to worry. About a month ago, the two spoke, and Towah promised he would get his life back on the right track.

On Friday, the state dropped the affray and trespassing charges against Towah, explaining the dismissal in three terse words: "Defendant is deceased."

Anyone with information on Taylor's whereabouts is asked to call CrimeStoppers at 683-1200. Tips are always anonymous, and rewards are given for information leading to felony arrests.

Staff writer Eric Bishop can be reached at 812-3769 or ebishop@newsobserver.com.

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