Boy ordered tried in French street artist's death

AP News
Posted: Sep 11, 2014 8:57 PM
Boy ordered tried in French street artist's death

DETROIT (AP) — A Detroit judge on Thursday ordered a 14-year-old boy to stand trial on first-degree murder and armed robbery charges in the fatal shooting of a French street artist whose body was discovered a year ago near an abandoned public housing project.

The boy was 13 at the time of the killing of 23-year-old Bilal Berreni of Paris. Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy has said that the boy and three other then-teenagers carried out the attack.

Berreni was found with a gunshot wound to the face on July 29, 2013, outside the Frederick Douglass Homes. No identification was on his body, and it was seven months before Michigan State Police identified him, using fingerprints.

At a hearing Thursday, police Investigator Ira Todd testified that the boy told officers that he and his friends were shooting dice when they decided to rob and kill someone, the Detroit Free Press and The Detroit News reported. The boy said they spotted Berreni skateboarding, pulled a gun on him and demanded money, according to Todd.

"I don't have any money," Berreni told the teens, according to the 14-year-old's statement.

"Stop lying to me," said Dionte Travis, then 16, according to the younger boy's statement. The 14-year-old said he and his friends took $300, credit cards and a backpack from Berreni. Afterward, Travis stood over Berreni with a gun, a shot went off and Berreni slumped over, the younger boy's statement said.

The 14-year-old told police that he used his $50 share of the robbery to buy "junk food" and marijuana, Todd said.

After hearing the testimony, Judge Virgil Smith ruled that there was enough evidence to try the 14-year-old. His next hearing is Sept. 22 before Judge Alexis Glendening.

The boy is designated as an adult in the juvenile court system. If he's convicted, a judge could sentence him as a juvenile, an adult or a juvenile for a period, then an adult.

Travis, now 17; Jasin Curtis, 18; and Drequone Rich, 20, were scheduled to have a probable cause hearing Thursday in adult court on first-degree murder, robbery and other charges. A Detroit district judge instead ordered that they undergo competency proceedings and rescheduled a hearing for Oct. 9.

Prosecutors aren't naming the 14-year-old because of his age, and The Associated Press generally doesn't name juveniles accused of crimes. The AP is naming Travis because he was charged as an adult.

Family members of the teen declined to comment to reporters after the hearing. The AP left phone and email messages for the boy's lawyer, George Chedraue, on Thursday night seeking comment.

Berreni graduated from an applied arts school, then left to pursue his work around the world. He signed his work under the name the Zoo Project, gaining attention in 2011 through work in Tunisia in which he made life-size pictures of people killed in unrest in that North African nation.

He visited Detroit in 2012 and again in 2013. His father said he occasionally may have lived as a squatter in vacant structures.