(HOUSTON) — A man suspected of firing the shots that killed 7-year-old Jazmine Barnes as she rode in a car in Houston with her mother and sisters has denied any involvement in the tragic episode, his attorney said Thursday.
Larry Woodruffe, 24, was arraigned Thursday in a Houston courtroom on a capital murder charge and a judge ruled there is probable cause to hold him for trial.
Woodruffe is the second suspect charged with capital murder in the case. His alleged accomplice, Eric Black Jr., 20, who was charged last week, allegedly told investigators that he was driving a rental car when Woodruffe opened fire on the vehicle occupied by Jazmine and her family.
Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez has said that Jazmine and her family were targeted in a case of “mistaken identity.”
Lisa Andrews, Woodruffe’s court-appointed attorney, said Woodruffe denies any involvement in the killing and that he told police he was not in the car with Black when Jazmine was shot.
Andrews noted that the only person who has identified Woodruffe as the shooter is Black.
“I can tell you, the only person who says that is the person who got charged first. My experience is that people have a big motive to get themselves out of hot water,” Andrews told reporters following Thursday’s court hearing.
Jazmine’s life was cut short on Dec. 30, when a gunman opened fire on her family’s car in northwest Houston. Jazmine, who was sitting in the backseat, was shot in the head and killed, while her mother, LaPorsha Washington, was wounded in the left arm.
The Harris County Sheriff’s Office launched a massive manhunt for a suspect initially described by Jazmine’s 15-year-old sister Alxis and three other independent witnesses as a white man driving a red pickup truck.
But a tip shared with social justice activist and journalist Shaun King led to a stunning break in the case last week and helped investigators identify Black and Woodruffe as suspects in Jazmine’s death, authorities said.
Following his arrest, police say Black directed police to a 9mm handgun at his house that was used in the killing.
“It is my experience that after 20 years of doing criminal law on both sides that shooters don’t give up their gun and that gun [Black] led the cops to was at his house, not my client’s,” Andrews said. “So I think that’s pretty telling, but we’ll have to see what the evidence shows down the road.”
Black’s court-appointed attorney, Alvin Nunnery, did not respond to requests for comment from ABC News.
During Thursday’s hearing, Andrews filed a motion for a change of venue due to pre-trial publicity. She also asked Judge Latosha Lewis to remind prosecutors of their “ethical responsibilities regarding pre-trial publicity.”
“Specifically, my concerns are that some of our local leaders are taking steps, posting things on social media that I believe are unprofessional and inappropriate given their position of investigating the case and prosecuting the case. It’s causing a lot of negative feelings, publicity and I believe that it is prejudicing the potential jury pool,” Andrews said.
She also suggested that it was inappropriate for Sheriff Gonzalez to speak at Jazmine’s funeral on Tuesday.
“While that’s a heartwarming gesture … he’s still the person in charge of investigating this case and actions like that don’t seem objective or unbiased,” Andrews said.
Tom Berg, the first assistant district attorney in Harris County, described Andrews’ court motions as “premature.”
“By the time this case comes to trial we expect to be able to draw a fair panel and get a fair jury for a fair trial,” Berg told reporters. “We intend to try this case on the evidence and from the extent that the defendants have anything to be concerned about it’s going to be on the evidence that’s presented before a jury in this case and not tweets that were made months earlier by other people unrelated to it.”
The high-profile shooting case prompted an outpouring of support for Jazmine’s loved ones from people across the nation, including celebrities like Houston Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, former NBA great Shaquille O’Neal and actresses Gabrielle Union and Olivia Wilde.
O’Neal and Hopkins helped cover the expense of Jazmine’s funeral.
O’Neal told ABC News Radio on Wednesday that he was disturbed by Jazmine’s death and wanted to take action.
“Funerals… ten, fifteen thousand [dollars], that’s not going to hurt me, but for people to have to try to scrum money together to bury their little, beautiful daughter… nobody should ever have to go through that. So, I didn’t want them to have to go through that… It was just the right thing to do,” O’Neal said.
“I’m watching the news, and I saw the story, and it just touched my heart,” he said. “And I saw how devastated that mom was. And then to end the story… they had to raise money for the funeral? I can’t have that.”
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