Police: Jazmine Barnes’ killing likely ‘mistaken identity’

Jazmine Barnes suspect a gang member? Lawyer: ‘None of your business’
CNN, Harris County Sheriff’s Office
Jazmine Barnes

The death of a 7-year-old girl in a drive-by shooting in Houston was most likely a case of “mistaken identity” involving two suspects, Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said Sunday.

Jazmine Barnes was riding in a car with her mother and sisters on December 30 when someone in another vehicle shot her in the head.

Eric Black Jr., 20, was arrested Saturday in a traffic stop for not using his turn signal. He is accused of driving the car used in Jazmine’s death, Gonzalez said in a news conference Sunday. He faces a charge of capital murder.

The sheriff declined to name the second person, citing the pending investigation, but prosecutors identified Larry Woodruffe as the second suspect in a court hearing for Black Saturday morning, the Houston Chronicle reported.

Jail records indicate that Woodruffe is currently in custody on drug possession charges. He has not been charged in connection with the shooting.

Meanwhile, investigators are still looking for the driver of a red pickup truck reported at the scene, Gonzalez said. They do not believe the driver — described as a white man in his 40s — or the truck were involved in the shooting, he said, despite previous reports suggesting racism played a role in Jazmine’s death.

The latest developments mark a turning point in a case that shocked the nation. At Sunday’s press conference, Gonzalez and Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee said they hoped Jazmine’s death would lead to more discussions about gun violence prevention and race relations.

“This death of Jazmine has sparked a lot of discussion on many different levels and I think that it is good that going forward we continue to have positive dialogue on a number of issues,” Gonzalez said.

Jazmine and her three sisters were still in their pajamas when they piled into their mother’s car the morning of December 30.

As they drove to a store for breakfast supplies, a man pulled up next to their car around 7 a.m. and opened fire, Jazmine’s mother, LaPorsha Washington, said.

Investigators identified Black as one of two suspects in Jazmine’s shooting based on an anonymous tip, according to an affidavit read aloud in court Sunday. Gonzalez said that the tipster had approached writer and activist Shaun King days earlier, and King passed the tip on to police.

The anonymous tipster said Black and another person, identified in court as “L.W.,” shot at Jazmine’s family’s vehicle after mistaking it for another one.

Black was pulled over days later for not using his turn signal, according to the affidavit. He was arrested for marijuana possession and questioned by homicide investigators based on the tips, the affidavit said.

Black told investigators that he drove the vehicle used in the shooting while a man in the passenger seat opened fire, according to the affidavit.

Black said the gun used in the shooting was at his home, the affidavit said. He gave officers permission to search for it and they found a 9mm pistol consistent with shell casings recovered from the scene.

How the suspect descriptions changed

Attorney S. Lee Merritt, who is representing Jazmine’s family, said her relatives welcomed news of the arrest — even though the suspect’s race came as a surprise.

Before Black’s arrest, police released a sketch of the suspect described as a white man in his 40s, based on information from Jazmine’s mother and three sisters. But Black is an African-American man, and another man who was arrested but has not been publicly identified is also black, Jazmine’s mother told CNN affiliate KTRK.

At least four other witnesses also reported seeing someone in a red truck fire into Jazmine’s car, Merritt said. Nevertheless, “the family was surprised and relieved by the arrest,” he told CNN, regardless of the suspect’s race.

“They wanted the right person to be convicted — not a white person,” he said. “This is the first opportunity they’ve been given to mourn. The family is entering a period of deep grieving.”

While it may be difficult to understand the discrepancy, “it is imaginable that witnesses confused a fleeing bystander for the actual shooter,” he later said on Twitter.

Police are still looking for the driver of the pickup truck as a witness to the event, Gonzalez said. Investigators believe the truck came to a traffic signal near the shooting and continued on to the freeway after the shooting.

“We still want that individual to come forward, as it appears this was a case of mistaken identity,” Gonzalez said Sunday.

An outpouring of support

Washington, 30, was shot in the arm, while Jazmine’s 6-year-old sister was hit by shattered glass. Jazmine’s two teenage sisters were not injured. But minutes later, Jazmine was pronounced dead.

Hundreds of mourners gathered Saturday outside the Walmart near where Jazmine was killed.

Washington thanked everyone who came to honor her daughter, whose birthday is next month, she said.

“I’m telling you, every time I see one of y’all reach out for me, I can hold my head up,” she said. “I can get up in the morning.”

More than 2,700 people donated to a GoFundMe set up for Jazmine’s funeral expenses and family. Houston Texans receiver DeAndre Hopkins has said he’ll donate his playoff game check to the family.

Jazmine will also be remembered Tuesday in a “Justice for Jazmine Barnes Community Rally” honoring homicide victims in Harris County, according to organizers.

Services for Jazmine are scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. Tuesday with a viewing at Green House International Church. Her funeral is at noon. Mourners plan to release purple balloons — Jazmine’s favorite color.

“We often don’t emphasize the death of black and brown children,” Merritt said.

“We all have a role (in) getting justice for any child of gun violence.”