Jerome Cannon Jr. was trying to keep the peace after a dice game on Lincoln Avenue turned violent.
The 20-year-old aspiring rapper approached the home where acquaintance Jeremiah “Havoc” Hamilton had gotten into a heated argument earlier in the evening. Hamilton was seeking retribution, but Cannon wanted to smooth things over, according to prosecutors.
“His arms outstretched, his voice calm, nothing aggressive, [Cannon] asked for peace,” Assistant District Attorney Jonathan Healy told jurors during the opening statements in Hamilton’s trial Wednesday. “Jerome Cannon wanted peace, but the defendant wanted war.”
As Cannon crossed the street to talk with the group, Healy said, Hamilton drew a .25-caliber semiautomatic pistol he grabbed from a friend and fired off three shots. One hit a parked van and another struck the window of a house.
The third shot struck Cannon in the back of his head. He collapsed in the street and died the following day at the Albany Medical Center hospital, after family members removed him from life support.
“Jerome Cannon is dead — figuratively and literally — because he got in the way,” Healy said. The shooting took place Sept. 13, 2008.
But defense attorney Michael Horan said the prosecution’s version of events is undercut by the quality of evidence collected in the case and the reliability of the witnesses slated to testify. He told jurors that the case against his client is largely based upon accounts that are unsupported by evidence.
“Not an iota of forensic evidence will convict Mr. Hamilton in this case,” he said.
Horan also blasted the prosecution for cutting plea deals with individuals charged in other cases in exchange for testifying against Hamilton. He said Victor Toomer — the man the prosecution says Hamilton intended to shoot — agreed to testify in order to avoid a life sentence in prison as a persistent felon.
“When they’re facing prison, they cut a deal and sell their testimony,” he told jurors.
The trial got under way late Wednesday morning, following more than a day of jury selection and several hours of legal wrangling over evidence that would be used in the case. The trial is expected to last up to four weeks.
Prosecutors said Hamilton had only recently moved to Schenectady when he struck up a dice game with Toomer and several others. An argument arose from the game and Hamilton struck Toomer, Healy said.
Toomer and his friends then chased Hamilton away and returned to Lincoln Avenue. Healy said Hamilton then obtained the gun from a friend and stormed back to the home with Cannon, with the intention of shooting someone. When they arrived, Cannon saw that the target group included Toomer — another acquaintance of his — and walked over to Toomer to try to calm the situation.
It was at that point, Healy said, that Hamilton opened fire, which is why Cannon was hit in the back of his head.
After the shooting, Hamilton left the city. He was later arrested by members of a New York Police Department task force in an unrelated investigation.
Toomer, 26, was sentenced to serve more than 15 years in prison in February after pleading guilty to the federal charge of conspiracy to distribute and possess with the intent to distribute cocaine and crack cocaine. He was indicted along with 15 others for being part of a massive drug distribution network extending throughout the Capital Region.
The investigation into the drug ring also led to the seizure of 18 long guns and four handguns from a Bradley Street address in a raid and more than 1.6 pounds of crack cocaine from a Kings Road address in March 2010.
Hamilton faces counts of second-degree murder, second-degree attempted murder, two counts of second-degree criminal possession of a weapon and first-degree reckless endangerment. He is now serving up to eight years in state prison on an attempted murder conviction from the Bronx.