NISKAYUNA — Although two men shot and killed Ayanna Hunter at a Niskayuna gathering in May, they will not face homicide charges as they acted in self-defense, Schenectady County District Attorney Robert Carney announced Thursday.
Hunter, 21, was the aggressor in the incident, pulled out a gun and fired first. The two men were legally justified firing back, Carney said, citing grand jury findings.
The grand jury heard evidence from 24 witnesses and received 270 exhibits and found that Wayne Brown, 18, and Pierre D. Thompson, 19, shot her to death at Hillcrest Village Apartments around 8:15 p.m. May 27, Carney told reporters at a morning press conference.
Though they won’t face charges in Hunter’s death, a grand jury did indict them on felony weapons and evidence tampering counts, Carney said, as the justification finding in the shooting does not carry over to possessing the weapons or removing the weapons from the scene, as the men are accused of doing.
Also indicted in the incident was a friend of Hunter’s, Angela Rondon, 26. Rondon accompanied Hunter to the picnic and faces her own weapons count, evidence tampering count and a reckless endangerment charge.
She is accused of possessing a handgun at the picnic and then encouraging Hunter “by her words and conduct to engage in the gun battle that took Ayanna’s life,” Carney said.
“It’s unusual that the initial aggressor that day was a young woman who was encouraged and abetted in her daily behavior by another young woman who was her friend,” Carney said.
Rondon is also accused of taking the handgun used by Hunter and concealing it from authorities.
Hunter, 21, arrived at the party armed with a handgun, Carney said. She had been feuding with one or more people at the Hillcrest Village gathering. She approached the group, had a brief discussion and then pulled her gun and fired it one or more times at Brown, Carney said.
“There were at least three people shooting and it was understandably chaotic,” he said.
Hunter and Rondon arrived just minutes before the shooting.
Brown was armed with a .40 caliber handgun and returned fire, Carney said. Thompson then grabbed a .380 caliber handgun and also fired at Hunter, Carney said. Brown may have also grabbed Thompson’s .380 at some point and fired it or tried to fire it again at Hunter, Carney said.
Hunter was hit once in her side by a .380 caliber round, Carney said.
“Because the Grand Jury ruled this to be a legally justifiable shooting, no homicide charges resulted,” Carney said.
The district attorney declined to speculate on the precise motive. But he acknowledged bad blood had been simmering for at least several months.
“There was some anger,” he said. “There were multiple potential motives that we’ve heard about.”
None of the firearms have been recovered, Carney said.
The fourth person charged related to the incident’s aftermath, Jason Sellie, 40, Hunter’s stepfather.
Sellie, who is married to Hunter’s mother, Charisse Sellie, is accused of shooting Brown in the torso July 4 on Emmett Street in Schenectady. Brown returned fire, hitting Sellie in the ankle, Carney said.
The grand jury determined Brown’s actions to again be justified in returning fire, but he was again charged with weapons possession, Carney said.
Sellie faces one count of second-degree attempted murder, as well as other charges related to that incident.
Carney said it was unlikely more will be charged in connection with the two shootings.
“I don’t anticipate it, but I wouldn’t rule it out,” he said.
He said gun violence, primarily among young people, remains a chronic problem.
“For some of these people, having a gun is a way of life,” he said. “If you have it, and you’re tempted to use it.”
Carney also said he wished “Ayanna had a better group of friends,” a comment that drew criticism from Hunter’s friends and family members, several of whom attended the press conference and wore t-shirts emblazoned with Hunter’s image.
Afterward, Charisse Sellie spoke with reporters. She declined to say if Brown and Thompson should have been charged with homicide, citing the grand jury’s decision.
But she disagreed with Carney’s characterization of her daughter, who she called “a legend” and someone dedicated to uplifting her family and friends.
At the time of her death, she and Hunter were in the process of opening a business and preparing to relocate elsewhere, the mother said.
“My daughter was not just some outlaw running around with a gun and trying to shoot people,” Charisse Sellie told reporters. “That’s just not who she was.”
She was also upset that prosecutors didn’t discuss Brown and Thompson’s motives, noting they, too, were armed at a cookout that Charisse Sellie said was designed to be a fundraiser for her daughter.
The mother said she was unaware of Brown before the shooting, but knew Thompson’s father.
“Those two people were not victims,” she said.
While Charisse Sellie agreed that guns should be cleaned up from the community, she expressed a dim outlook on whether efforts would be successful.
“I don’t know how that can happen,” the mother said. “I don’t think it’s possible. People get guns everywhere.”