Murder defendant denies gang status

October 1, 2009 7:00:34 AM PDT
A New York man has taken the stand in Lehigh County Court to deny that he is a gang member or that he ordered a murder at an eastern Pennsylvania graduation party last year.

Twenty-one-year-old Tahreel Maleek Townsend, of Brooklyn, is charged with first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder in the mistaken-identity slaying of 22-year-old Jimmy Ortiz in Allentown on May 10, 2008.

Prosecutors allege that Townsend ordered a gang retaliation hit, but the shooters mistook a graduation party for a gang party and gunned down Ortiz because of the color of his shirt.

Nineteen-year-old Brandon Figueroa earlier testified that he could have ended up dead if he had refused the order to do the shooting. Another defendant, 29-year-old Tariq Bailey, also testified that Townsend ordered the killing.

Townsend pleaded guilty in June to conspiracy to commit third-degree murder but withdrew the plea the following month. His attorney, public defender John Baurkot, says Figueroa and other prosecution witnesses are trying to get better deals in their own cases.


Information from: The Morning Call,