On a rainy night in January 2012, gunfire erupted on Blue Hill Avenue, and Kelvin Rowell took off running.
No one was struck by the shots, but Rowell, 40, did not escape unharmed. He suffered a severe asthma attack after the shooting incident, slipped into a coma, and died 42 days later.
The medical examiner declared his death a homicide. and a first-degree murder charge was brought against the alleged shooter, Michael “Fresh” Stallings, 26, of Dorchester.
But as Stallings’s unusual murder trial opened Tuesday in Suffolk Superior Court, defense attorney Stephen J. Weymouth told jurors that another man is to blame for Rowell’s death because he fired first.
“The question is simple. You find out who the first shooter was and you hold that person responsible,” Weymouth said in his opening statement. “If you conclude that Michael Stallings was not the first shooter, he’s acquitted across the board.”
Weymouth said that the first shooter was Luis Bodden-Maximo and called him “the big, missing white elephant in this room.” He said Bodden-Maximo probably used a revolver, and that forensic evidence shows he fired first.
“What happened on that day is not murder, but the unintentional, unlawful killing of Kelvin Rowell by Luis Bodden-Maximo’s wanton and reckless misconduct in discharging his firearm,” Weymouth said.
The prosecution described Bodden-Maximo as an active gang member who was on Blue Hill Avenue when the shooting occurred just before 8 p.m. on Jan. 23, 2012. But they say he was returning fire, and one of the indictments against Stallings identifies Bodden-Maximo as a victim.
Stallings is charged with two counts of armed assault with intent to murder for allegedly shooting at Bodden-Maximo and another man who was with Rowell.
Stallings has pleaded not guilty. Bodden-Maximo has not been charged.
Suffolk Assistant District Attorney Julie Higgins said Stallings went to Blue Hill Avenue that night with a loaded .40 caliber semi-automatic pistol to kill members of a rival gang on their turf.
She said investigators tied Stallings to that location because he was wearing a GPS monitoring device and because months later, Boston police arrested him with a gun. She said the gun Stallings was caught with on Aug. 29, 2012, matched the firearm used in the Blue Hill Avenue shooting that Rowell fled from.
“This defendant showed up with that loaded gun and he fired that loaded gun,” Higgins said during her opening statement. “The defendant started a series of events. You fire a gun, you’re responsible for what follows.”
She said Stallings turned onto Blue Hill Avenue from Supple Road in Dorchester and started shooting. Rowell and a longtime friend, she said, ran to Pasadena Road, where Rowell was overtaken by the asthma attack.
“When Kelvin Rowell ran, his body went into a crisis. His body went into a severe asthma attack,” Higgins said. “And because of the defendant firing that gun in the direction of those men, Kelvin Rowell died, and that was murder.”
The 38-year-old man who ran from the gunfire with Rowell testified on Tuesday, but prosecutors asked that he not be named because of concerns about his safety.
The man testified that Rowell was a childhood friend. On the night of the shooting, he said, they were hanging out on Blue Hill Avenue when they heard gunshots.
“I grabbed him by his shoulders and said, ‘C’mon,’ and just ran. He ran with me,” he said.
The man said they ran to a friend’s home on Pasadena Road and asked to come inside to get away from the gunfire.
He said Rowell initially told him he needed to catch his breath, but a short time later he was laying over a fence and his tongue was swollen. Rowell’s mother, Frances Rowell-Darden, testified that her son was diagnosed with asthma at age 13 and used an inhaler.
The man said he laid Rowell on his back and called 911.
Susan Rook, who went to the scene with Boston Emergency Medical Services, said Rowell did not have a pulse and was not breathing. Rescuers eventually restored his pulse while they were en route to Boston Medical Center. Rowell died on March 5, 2012.
Testimony resumes Wednesday.