Murder trial opens in 2009 parking-lot 'bling' slaying

Michelle Theriault Boots

The trial of three men charged with murder in the broad-daylight shooting of a 23-year-old man in a crowded Anchorage store parking lot in 2009 began with opening arguments Monday.

Dawud Johnson, Ajamu McCoy and Jerry Lynn Taylor Jr. are charged with first-degree murder and tampering with evidence in the death of Joe Alfred Young Jr.

The shooting happened at 1 p.m. on a Thursday outside a Sports Authority in one of Anchorage's busiest shopping districts.

Prosecutor Emma Haddix laid out the state's case against the three defendants in the courtroom of Superior Court Judge Michael Wolverton.

Haddix told jurors the men killed Young in a dispute over a stolen necklace. Defense attorneys countered that the men acted in self-defense after Young shot first.

Both sides agree that the trouble started when Young, 23, robbed Naron Celestine of a flashy, custom-designed, diamond-studded medallion valued at nearly $100,000 in a parking lot behind Club Elixir on 5th Avenue on May 1, 2009.

Celestine was a drug dealer and music producer who split his time between Anchorage and Kansas City, Mo., according to police. The medallion carried the logo of his production company.

Later, Young and two buddies -- known as "Dre" and "Smurf" -- posed for photos with the stolen bling.

"He was young, he was brash and he had made an absurd choice," Haddix said.

Prosecutors say Young started to worry about his actions and took to wearing a bulletproof vest and hiding at his mother's house in the Valley.

On June 4, 2009, the three defendants and Young ended up in the busy parking lot of the Sports Authority on the Old Seward Highway near Dimond Boulevard.

Johnson, 31, and McCoy, 33, had been living in Anchorage. Taylor, 23, had only weeks before moved to Alaska from Arizona.

In the prosecution version of events, Young was ambushed and shot in the neck and chest by the defendants. Young was conscious when police arrived but died later at the hospital.

The prosecutor told jurors Young was "executed in broad daylight" and "never had a chance."

Haddix didn't speak directly to a motive for the shooting, but documents filed in court in 2009 included the claim that Young had a $10,000 bounty on his life as a result of the theft of the medallion. A police affidavit that year also said that, as Young was dying, he told police "Cole," shot him. "Cole" was a nickname for Celestine.

An attorney for the defendants said they acted in self-defense and were themselves ambushed by Young.

Attorney James Christie said Johnson had been trying to talk Young into returning the stolen necklace.

During a day of errands and haircuts on Johnson's birthday, the three defendants stopped by Sports Authority because Young's friends Dre and Smurf had asked them to talk, Christie said.

Unarmed, Johnson approached Young's Ford Explorer, defense attorneys said. Young suddenly pulled a gun and shot Johnson just below the armpit.

Taylor returned fire, Christie said. McCoy was in the back seat of their car, a Toyota Camry borrowed from Johnson's girlfriend. Taylor fired four to six shots into the windshield of the Explorer.

"Taylor used deadly force in defense of himself and Dawud," Christie said.

After fleeing, the three men tried to hide at the apartment of acquaintances. They made sloppy attempts to clean up the car because they were scared, Christie said. They didn't realize Young had died until they heard it on the news.

The medallion was later recovered from Young's safety deposit box. In court Monday, Haddix held up it up in an evidence bag.

Celestine, the original owner of the jewelry, is serving a 15-year federal sentence for his role in a conspiracy to distribute cocaine.

The trial continues Tuesday.

Reach Michelle Theriault Boots at or 257-4344.

Anchorage Daily News