On the stand, a witness described his friend’s dying scream. In the back of the courtroom, two women cried for two different sons from two different worlds, two different walks of life.
The tears came Monday inside Judge John C. Blue’s Courtroom 4A at state Superior Court on Church Street. The women were there for Day One of the jury trial in the murder of 23-year-old Mitchell Dubey.
One woman cried for Dubey, who was an underground-music enthusiast and friendly mechanic at the downtown Devil’s Gear Bike Shop. Dubey, who’s white, hailed from Los Angeles.
Another cried for Tashaun Fair, a 20-year-old African-American from Newhallville. Fair is accused of killing Dubey on March 24, 2011, in an attempted robbery at Dubey’s Bassett Street home. His family and defense lawyers say they’re convinced of his innocence.
Fair, who was arrested on Aug. 28, 2012, has pleaded not guilty to felony murder, first-degree robbery, home invasion, and carrying a pistol without a permit. He is locked up on a $2 million bond. His trial is expected to last six days, plus time for jury deliberation, according to Judge Blue.
Day One of the trial brought fraught emotions on both sides as two families converged on the downtown courthouse from different worlds and with different views on the case.
Dubey’s parents, Randi and Larry, flew in from California to show support for their son, a popular bike mechanic killed by an intruder in his Newhallville home. Dubey did nothing to provoke the killing; the peaceful vegan said “Dude, put the gun down” before the intruder shot, according to witnesses.
Fair’s family showed up to fight for the freedom of a young father and New Haven public school grad whom they believe has suffered a different injustice—a wrongful arrest.
This criminal case has devastated both families. Both brought with them years of memories, and heavy anticipation for the days ahead.
About 20 friends and family members, including Devil’s Gear Bike Shop owner Matt Feiner, showed up to support Dubey Monday. Larry Dubey, who was paralyzed from the neck down after a snowboarding incident, arrived by wheelchair. They sat on the right side of court.
Four members of Fair’s family—an older sister, stepdad, grandma and aunt—sat on the left side of court. Tashaun’s mom, Ruby Avent, cannot attend the trial because she plans to serve as a witness. Avent is key to Fair’s defense: Fair claimed he was home playing video games at the time of the homicide, and his mom was in the house. Avent backed up his alibi.
Tashaun entered the courtroom at quarter past 10 a.m. Monday—this time wearing a black suit instead of a prison jumpsuit, as he did in a prior court appearance. Moments later, the 12 jurors—five men and seven women, plus four alternates—filed in.
On the stand, New Haven Police Officer Ronald Pressley got the jurors oriented to Newhallville by showing them Dubey’s house on a map. Pressley, who was first on the scene at the time of the crime, described entering the house and finding Dubey’s body with a single gunshot wound to the chest. Dubey was rushed to the hospital and pronounced dead one hour later.
Pressley walked jurors through frantic 911 calls from the time of the incident.
“I’m at 29 Bassett St. My roommate got shot,” said Kaylee Byram, one of Dubey’s three roommates.
“Listen to me. ... Are they breathing?” the dispatcher asked.
“Yes. He’s barely alive,” she replied.
The emotional climax came when the state called its second witness, a friend who had been visiting Dubey’s home. The witness had met Dubey a week prior at a punk rock show Dubey’s housemates hosted in their basement. The witness described having dinner with Dubey and his roommates. They were sitting around the dinner table drinking tea—most of them were straight-edge at the time, meaning they didn’t drink alcohol—when they heard a knock at the door.
Dubey got up to answer the door. The witness followed.
When Dubey answered the door, “I saw somebody with a gun,” the witness said. The man brandished a silver .38 caliber snub-nosed revolver. He pointed it at Dubey and the witness, ordered them into the living room, and told them to “empty your pockets” and “sit down.” The friends sat down on the couch.
Then “Mitch said, ‘Hey man, you don’t need that gun.’ And then he was shot,” the witness recalled.
Prosecutor Jack P. Doyle asked the witness how he knew his friend was shot.
“He made a really terrible noise,” fell forward, and began to bleed, the witness said. He choked up as he described the sound: “a stifled, painful, lurching scream.”
The witness said his two roommates rushed to Dubey’s side. They were “telling him they loved him and putting pressure on his chest.”
Dubey’s mom and sister broke down in tears at the description.
They asked for privacy Monday from the press. Randi Dubey said she feels “so many feelings” heading into the trial. Asked what she is hoping for from the experience, she said, “I’m not sure.” Larry Dubey declined to comment: “The less I say, the better,” he said. (Click on the play arrow to hear impassioned words of love from Dubey’s roommate after his death.)
On the other side of the courtroom, Tashaun’s grandma and his aunt, Barbara Fair, cried, too, for a different reason.
Fair’s family said they believe cops got the wrong guy. None of the roommates and friends who witnessed the crime was able to ID the shooter. No physical evidence places Fair at the scene. The state’s case relies on the testimony of a key witness—a witness who may be responsible for the crime himself, public defender Tom Ullmann has argued.
Barbara Fair cried during the testimony for Tashaun.
“They put my nephew through all this b.s.” despite his innocence, insisted Fair, an outspoken criminal justice activist.
Fair’s family showed up to the trial seeking an acquittal.
“I’m hoping that my nephew will be found innocent,” said Barbara Fair.
Fair (pictured at center with Tashaun’s sister and grandma, who declined to give their names) said she was focused Monday not on the verdict, but on the courtroom dynamics.
“What’s important is not to have the division” between the families, she said.
“I wish that wouldn’t happen,” she said, especially before all the evidence is heard. “We don’t even know what happened yet.”
Dubey’s close friend, Chris, eased the tension somewhat. When he arrived Monday morning, he shook hands with Barbara Fair. Fair said Chris had called her prior to the case. She introduced him to Fair’s family. Chris declined to elaborate on the conversations he and Fair have had.
Fair said the case has been “devastating” for her family. Though she believes in her nephew’s innocence, she was bracing for a difficult trial. “We all know how the criminal justice system works,” she said. “It’s all about how the jury sees the evidence.” She cited the recent acquittal of George Zimmerman in the murder of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black man whose death sparked national outrage.
The trial will determine the fate of not just Tashaun Fair, but his young daughter. Tashaun, who’s 20, grew up in Fair Haven and then Newhallville; he is one of seven kids in the family. He graduated from New Horizons, an alternative New Haven public high school, in 2011. He was arrested for third-degree robbery the following year. He was convicted in 2012 but spared jail. Fair has an almost-2-year-old daughter, Zamaya, whom he left a year ago when he headed to jail. He now faces 25 years to life in prison.
An Open Mind
Racial dynamics in the courtroom extend to those in the jury box. Of the 12 jurors, one appeared to be African-American. One of four alternate jurors is also African-American. This is often the case in New Haven, because the jury pool covers a wide area including suburbs around the city.
The jurors’ unfamiliarity with New Haven emerged when the courtroom clerk announced that one of the jurors had parked her car on the street—a bad idea, because the meter would expire in two hours.
“Which juror parked her car on the street?” asked Blue with incredulity.
The juror is clearly not from New Haven, remarked Barbara Fair.
Tashaun’s older sister said she felt “hopeful” for an acquittal.
“I just hope they have an open mind,” said the sister, who declined to give her name.
Defense attorney Ullmann (pictured) ended the day talking about freckles again. He was grilling Dubey’s friend, the one who had described seeing Dubey get shot, on the identification he gave to police. The witness initially told cops the shooter had “lots” of “freckles.”
On the stand, the witness backed away from the word “freckles.” He testified that the suspect had “mottled skin,” inconsistent pigmentation across the stretch of his face that was visible. The shooter had a hood pulled down to his eyebrows and a T-shirt pulled up over his nostrils, the witness said.
Ullmann also grilled the witness over a sketch of the suspect that police put together—a sketch that had many freckles. The witness distanced himself from the work.
“Is this a fair representation of how the witness looked that night?” Ullmann asked, holding up the sketch.
“No,” replied the witness.
Ullmann asked how that could be, given that the cops made the sketch based solely on the witness’s description.
The sketch-maker “is not going off on his own lark and making up stuff,” Ullmann said. The witness said the sketch “emphasizes one of the skin traits I remember seeing”—the freckles—by sprinkling them all across the suspect’s face. And he added that it was done a month and a half after the murder.
Ullmann has argued the description is very important because Fair does not have freckles. He plans to continue cross-examining the witness when court resumes Tuesday.
Previous Independent stories on the case:
• Does Tashaun Fair Have Freckles?
• State Seeks Informant’s Name; Feds Seek To Hide It
• Defense Attorney Files Speedy Trial Motion In Mitch Dubey Murder Case
• Freckles, FBI Reports Spark “Innocent” Claim
• Supporters Emerge For Dubey Murder Suspect
• Dubey’s Killer Allegedly Panicked, Shot