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Last updated: Wed. Feb. 13, 2013 - 01:06 pm EDT

Gunshot death tied to return of lost phone, local jury told

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FORT WAYNE — When Kyree Ellis piped up from the backseat with, “I’m hit,” after a single gunshot rang out, his cousins thought he was joking.

He wasn’t, though, and unbeknownst to them, he was dying from a single .40-caliber gunshot wound to the back.

According to prosecutors, A.C. James Jr. murdered Ellis, 21, late on Feb. 3, 2012, after an argument with one of Ellis’ cousins over a cellphone.

James, 38, of the 1700 block of Illinois Street, was originally charged with aggravated battery and criminal recklessness. Late last week, prosecutors added the charge of murder, just days before his trial in Allen Superior Court began Tuesday.

Allen County Deputy Prosecutor Jeff Stineburg told the jury during opening statements that, along with witness testimony, they will hear from a man who loaned James the truck that was spotted at the scene of the shooting. Inside the truck, police found a spent .40-caliber shell casing, which matched the brand on an empty box of ammunition that was found inside James’ home, Stineburg said.

Testimony most of the day came from Ellis’ cousins – Andrew Witt and Michael Lewis – who were in the car with him that night.

According to testimony and court documents, Lewis found a cellphone earlier that evening inside a gas station at East Paulding Road and Hanna Street. He took it over to Kyree Ellis’ grandmother’s house, where Ellis was hanging out with Witt, Luevenia Ellis, and other family and friends.

While Lewis was there, the cellphone rang repeatedly – with the person on the other end of the call trying to negotiate for the return of the phone. Lewis agreed to meet the phone’s owner back at the gas station but wanted a finder’s fee for returning the phone, according to testimony.

Lewis drove to the gas station in a small Kia SUV belonging to Luevenia Ellis, with Witt in the passenger seat and Kyree Ellis in the back.

At the gas station, a man later identified by Lewis as James approached the car, argued with Lewis about the phone and then walked away.

Witt testified he felt strange about the situation and suggested they leave the lot. Lewis pulled out, with a two-tone older pickup truck following close behind.

Lewis testified he tried unsuccessfully to lose the pickup truck on Paulding Road, running the traffic light at Lafayette Street. As he approached the intersection, a shot rang out and the pickup truck took off down parallel Avondale Drive.

Witt testified he noticed the rear window of the car was shot out, and then Ellis said he had been shot.

“He wasn’t acting right,” Witt testified.

Lewis drove back to the family member’s home, and then Luevenia Ellis got in the car and drove Kyree Ellis to St. Joseph Hospital, where he died.

Luevenia Ellis testified that while she was driving to the hospital, a truck began following her and she heard another gunshot.

Lewis testified in a bright-orange Allen County Jail jumpsuit. He is awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty last month to voluntary manslaughter, having admitted to shooting 27-year-old Christopher Mhoon inside a Fort Wayne liquor store in June.

During opening statements Tuesday, James’ defense attorney, Randy Fisher, argued that the evidence would not prove James was the gunman. During cross-examination, Fisher questioned witnesses about whether they saw James driving the truck that night.

The trial is expected to continue through Thursday.

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