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First suspect arraigned in teen girl's shooting death

Laurel Andrews
Dana Sweatt holds a picture of her granddaughter, Precious Alex, outside the Anchorage Correctional Complex after Lamar Burney's arraignment Wednesday, April 2. Lamar Burney and Jamal Kareem Townsend have been charged with the Tuesday morning murder of 15-year-old Precious Alex, who was shot to death in Anchorage's Mountain View neighborhood. Loren Holmes photo

The arraignment of the first of two men accused of the murder of 15-year-old Precious Alex took place Wednesday afternoon at the Anchorage Correctional Complex. Twenty-eight-year-old Lamar Burney appeared in court as more than two dozen of the victim’s family members looked on. Multiple generations of Alex's family -- from the girl's great-grandmother to other teenagers -- were in attendance during the short proceedings, overflowing the courtroom. Burney's father was in attendance, and said after the arraignment that the families of the victim and the accused killer know each other well.

Before heading into the courtroom, Alex's grandmother Dana Sweatt said the family was taking things “moment by moment.” Demetra Alex, Precious Alex’s mother, wore sunglasses to the arraignment, surrounded by family who continued to pour into the waiting area outside of the courtroom before the proceedings. Once family began to file into the courtroom, about a dozen people had to be turned away to wait outside due to lack of seating.

The two rows of seats in the courtroom were packed beyond capacity -- some family members stood in a corner, and more family lined the sides of the room.

The defendant’s father, Tracey Burney, and his partner Elizabeth Akins stood next near the door, Akins weeping into Burney’s arm.

Charging documents: Fight may have led to murder

Precious Alex was killed Tuesday morning as she slept in her bed in Anchorage's Mountain View neighborhood. She was pronounced dead at a local hospital after being shot twice, once in the leg and once in the abdomen. Another juvenile who was sleeping beside her, identified in charging documents only as D.S., was shot in the right foot. Police on Tuesday found six bullet holes in the cracked window of the room where Precious Alex slept.

Charging documents suggest that the shooting may have stemmed from an altercation about two weeks prior, when 24-year-old Jamal Kareem Townsend, the other defendant in the case, allegedly got into a fight with Quintin Hargrove, the fiance of Demetra Alex, Precious Alex's mother.

The charging document said Hargrove told police that he had gotten in an argument with a man he knew as “Millz” about two weeks prior to the shooting, when “Millz” challenged Hargrove to a fight after the two men argued about a mutual girlfriend. Hargrove responded that he wouldn’t fight a man carrying a gun, and “Millz” then gave the handgun he was carrying to his girlfriend. The two fought, and Hargrove told police he “had the upper hand.”

After the fight, “Millz” fired several rounds as he left the residence, Hargrove said. When presented with a lineup of Alaska drivers’ license photos, Hargrove identified Townsend as the man he knew as “Millz.”

Around 3:15 a.m. on Tuesday, Anchorage police officers Troy Clark and Michael Wisel heard gunshots in the area of Parsons Avenue in the Mountain View neighborhood. They drove toward the area and saw a silver, late-model Jeep Cherokee speeding away from either North Flower Street or the alley to the east of the street, which was later determined to be the location of the shooting.

Once the driver saw Clark’s police car, the Jeep reportedly slowed down and began driving unusually slowly. The vehicle stopped at the intersection of Thompson Avenue and North Bragaw Street and continued to drive southbound toward Mountain View Drive. Clark called in about the suspicious vehicle and had taken down the last three numbers of the Jeep’s license plate when dispatch advised of a shooting victim on North Flower Street.

Fatally injured

When officers arrived at the residence, they found Alex suffering from multiple gunshot wounds. Paramedics transported her to Alaska Regional Hospital, where she later succumbed to her injuries. The other juvenile, D.S., who was in the room with Alex, had left the residence when police arrived. He later told police that he was lying in bed next to Alex, with both of their feet facing toward the driveway window, when he heard gun shots. He reached for Alex, but she was already shot. D.S. was later treated at Alaska Regional Hospital and released.

Meanwhile, a patrolling police officer spotted the silver Jeep Cherokee leaving the area southbound on Bragaw Street at Seventh Avenue. He began to follow the vehicle, and once additional officers arrived in the area, he conducted a traffic stop at 15th Avenue and Sitka Street.

A woman identified as Karlie West was driving the vehicle. Also in the car were Townsend and Burney. Townsend reportedly told police he had “some weed” on him and knew there was an outstanding warrant for his arrest, which the charging document said was for felony misconduct involving a controlled substance. He was taken into custody per the warrant. Burney is on felony probation for assault and was also taken into custody after the Anchorage Probation Office was contacted to determine if there had been a parole violation.

While doing a “protective sweep” of the vehicle for weapons, they reportedly found a black semi-automatic handgun under the front driver’s seat of the Jeep, and the vehicle was impounded. After a warrant was obtained, officers recovered a Smith and Wesson .40-caliber semi-automatic handgun. An empty magazine found in the weapon appeared to have fired loaded rounds and had been locked back in empty, the charging documents said.

At the Flower Street residence, officers found six bullet holes in the structure and six spent .40-caliber shell casings scattered on the ground several feet outside the window. Alex’s mother and Hargrove were sleeping in a bedroom adjacent to Alex’s room, and both rooms had daylight basement windows facing out into the driveway.

West would later tell police that she knew Townsend only as “Millz” and that she wasn’t sure where she was driving them on the night of the shooting. Both Townsend and Burney had been at her apartment earlier that night, and Townsend was agitated about a fight several weeks prior with Hargrove, she said.

West said she agreed to drive them to the Mountain View area and that she knew Townsend had brought a handgun with him. She didn’t see the weapon, she told police, but had heard them handling an item that sounded like a firearm. She drove the two men to the area near the victim’s residence and waited for about 10 minutes before they returned and told her to drive. That’s when police spotted the vehicle.

$1 million bail

Lamar Burney's actual arraignment Wednesday took only a few minutes. Burney stood behind glass, holding a piece of paper covering half his face as the court addressed him. Judge Douglas Kossler read the charges and the possible sentences. The murder charge alone carries a sentence between 20 and 99 years. 

Burney asked to be appointed an attorney, and after testifying about his finances, Kossler said he would be appointed a public defender.

The prosecution asked for $1 million in bail and a third-party custodian, which elicited some gasps from the audience. If bail is made, Burney was not to have contact with Karlie West -- the driver of the Jeep during the alleged incident -- or Alex's family, possess any weapons or leave Alaska without permission, among other conditions.

The victim's family was then asked whether they wanted to speak. Sweatt, Alex's grandmother, stood and, holding back tears, addressed the court.

“In respect to my daughter and my family and us not knowing the reasons why my granddaughter was taken from us, I would request that bail be denied,” she said. After the request, Sweatt held up a photo of Precious Alex -- a school photo in which the smiling teenager wore a red shirt against a red background.

Kossler granted the $1 million bail, along with the other conditions. The second defendant, Jamal Townsend, will be arraigned Thursday afternoon.

'It wasn't always cutthroat'

After the arraignment, many family members were in tears as they filed out of the courtroom. Once outside, Sweatt said the no-bail request was a consensus between both the defendant's and victim's families, as they know each other well. Tracey Burney -- the defendant's father -- and Sweatt embraced after the proceedings.

Sweatt said that she and Tracey Burney have known each other since high school, when times were different.

“Back in the day, it wasn’t always cutthroat, it wasn’t always dog eat dog,” she said.

Burney said the families were “definitely close. That’s why this doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.”

“We grew up together, Dana and I,” Burney said. “I’m sorry that they lost a family member, and I’m going to lose (my son),” but the situation is now left in God’s hands, he said. He believes his son is innocent until the courts prove otherwise.

Sweatt described victim 15-year-old Precious Alex as a “vibrant, 3.8 GPA honor student” who was “sensitive, caring (and) loving.”  

The charges against Lamar Burney, given the families' relationship, are “very frustrating, because on one hand you want to console and on the other hand you want justice,” she said. She declined to say whether she thought Lamar Burney was guilty of the alleged crimes.