Defense: Shots fired to quiet riot

Defense attorney Jack Swerling, left, talks to his client, Shawn Wilson, in the courtroom at the Chester County Courthouse on Wednesday.
Defense attorney Jack Swerling, left, talks to his client, Shawn Wilson, in the courtroom at the Chester County Courthouse on Wednesday.

CHESTER -- When Shawn Dewayne Wilson fired 28 times into the air outside a Great Falls bar four years ago, he was trying to quiet a riot, his attorney said.

The shooting killed Charlie Ray "Juicy" Brown Jr., left another man with a bullet in his chest and set off a series of fights in a parking lot and on a single-lane highway, according to testimony Wednesday in Wilson's murder trial.

"Everybody started fighting," Great Falls native Howard Boulware said at the Chester County Courthouse. "It's upsetting just to see the town of Great Falls fall apart like that."

Police say Wilson, now 28, shot Brown in the stomach outside The Talk of the Town bar and grill on Chester Avenue on June 28, 2003. Brown died at Chester Regional Medical Center.

Lawrence Olander Thigpen, also of Great Falls, was shot in the chest, police said.

Wilson was charged with murder, assault and battery with intent to kill, and possession of a weapon during a violent crime, Assistant Solicitor Chris Taylor said. The combined charges could carry life in prison, he said.

Boulware testified that on the night of the shooting, he was sitting in a car in front of Shooter's Cafe, near The Talk of the Town. Boulware said he was out having fun with his nephew and Brown, 24.

"This guy came up and asked for some drugs," Boulware testified. "He pulled out a knife. He started swinging the knife, and he ran back into the bar."

Boulware followed the man across the highway to The Talk of the Town. He did not identify the man in court.

Several other witnesses testified that a man entered the bar and grill and used a racial slur to say black people were going to jump on him. Afterward, some white patrons from The Talk of The Town spilled out into the parking lot.

Talk of the Town customers were met by some black customers from Shooter's Cafe. Members of both groups were armed with beer bottles, golf clubs and rocks, and a fight started.

"Someone had a golf club, and I snatched it out of his hand," said Carolyn Hemphill, one of three black women in The Talk of The Town.

Talk of the Town customer Gina Garrison testified that Wilson went to his pickup truck shortly after the fighting started.

"When I got to his truck, he was loading his gun," said Garrison, who had known Wilson for a week. "He put the clip in the gun and got out of the truck and started walking to the edge of the road. There was a guy there trying to get the gun from him."

The man was unsuccessful, she said.

Wilson then walked to the edge of the parking lot, Boulware said.

"I told Juicy (Brown) and my nephew to back up," Boulware said. "Bullets bypassed me and my nephew and hit Juicy. He ran over to my nephew and said, 'I'm hit. I'm hit.'"

Brown was shot four times, said Taylor, the assistant solicitor.

Thigpen, who lives nearby, said he was at home asleep on the night of the fight and was awakened by arguing outside.

"I opened my front door," he said. "That's when a bullet hit me."

Great Falls police officers were separating the large crowd when they were told Brown had been shot. The crowd became violent again, according a police report.

After the shooting, Wilson ran to Garrison and handed her the keys to his truck, Garrison said. "He said, 'Get in the truck and leave,'" she testified.

Wilson's attorney, Jack Swerling, said his client did not shoot either man.

"Mr. Wilson did get a pistol," Swerling said during opening arguments. "That's not going to be disputed. Mr. Wilson did shoot up in the air. The purpose was to get the crowd to quiet down. The dispute is whether Mr. Wilson fired in the crowd."

Boulware agreed that Wilson's first two rounds were shot into the air. But on the third round, "that's when he started going left to right."

Officials found 28 shells, but the weapon was never recovered, Taylor said.