Jurors listen to calls linking men
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Inmates at the Allegheny County Jail know that outgoing phone calls are recorded and may be monitored. But despite posted warning signs, a prosecutor contends, a member of the South Oakland Crips and friends on the outside used the jail phones to discuss two shootings that took place on May 23, 2005.
South Oakland residents Depaul Suzensky, 24, and Javon Q. Brooks, 18, who police say belong to the neighborhood gang, are on trial this week for firing shots at occupied homes on Dawson and Frazier streets.
A pregnant woman was grazed by a bullet at the Frazier Street home, where five other people, including two children, were uninjured. The sole occupant of the other home was not hurt.
Mr. Suzensky opted for a jury trial before Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Kevin G. Sasinoski. Police believe he was at the scene. He faces six counts of reckless endangerment, two each of discharging a gun into an occupied structure and conspiracy, and one of aggravated assault.
Mr. Brooks, who was in jail at the time of the shootings, faces similar charges because the prosecution alleges he helped to plan the incidents by phone. He chose to have Judge Sasinoski decide his case.
Witnesses testified that hours before the shootings, Mr. Suzensky was cruising in a car, circling the Frazier Street house and looking for residents he'd accused of being "snitches."
But the only evidence that links either defendant to the shootings is a series of calls made from the jail.
Pittsburgh police Detective Robert Renk and an FBI agent worked together to analyze more than 1,000 calls recorded at the jail. They pinpointed 14 snippets of conversations that took place shortly before and after the Oakland shootings, which Detective Renk attempted to decode while on the witness stand yesterday.
Jurors flipped through three-ring binders, following typed transcripts, while they listened to the muffled jail recordings of the calls.
"Strippers," Detective Renk explained, was slang for bullets. A "surprise party," he said, meant a shooting or an assault. A "burner," a "Big Mac sandwich" and a "Macky-Mack" were nicknames for guns. "Holler at the jakes," he said, meant do a drive-by shooting at the police or residents acting in concert with police.
The detective said the men planned to use a gun called "Big Betsy" or "the long dip" for the assaults.
"I'm gonna go grab her up tonight. She been stressin' me, wantin' me to take her out," a voice identified as Mr. Suzensky said on the tape five hours before the shootings.
In another call, placed after the shootings, a voice identified as Mr. Brooks' named one of the victims and said her house was "swiss cheesed up." A voice Detective Renk said was the inmate's cousin named a Frazier Street victim and said the victim "got it shot up" and "was about to have a heart attack."
The detective identified the voice of Tanneya Arrington, Mr. Brooks' girlfriend, reading a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette account of the shootings over the phone and bragging that the story took up half the newspaper.
Jeffrey R. Wasak, the lawyer who represents Mr. Suzensky, said, "Taken in context, the phone calls are nothing more than speculation and conjecture. They don't amount to anything resembling a plan to do anything illegal."
Mr. Wasak is expected to present two character witnesses today.
Mr. Brooks' lawyer, Frank Walker II, said his client was in jail during the shootings and did not agree or conspire about anything even if he did discuss the events.
"Monday morning quarterbacking is not a crime," he said.
First Published February 1, 2008 12:00 am