‘He cried out, ‘Daddy”: Trial for men accused of killing 7-year-old Amari Brown in 2015 opens

Amari Brown stood at a little over 4 feet when he collapsed to the ground on the Fourth of July in 2015.

The boy, 7, had gone out with his father that evening to watch fireworks, prosecutors said, and was outside when bullets came flying down the block.

Just over 50 pounds, he cried out as he fell, Assistant State’s Attorney Emily Stevens said.

“He cried out like any child would,” she said. “He cried out, ‘Daddy.’”

Amari’s slaying on the summer holiday — which saw spasms of violence that year — spurred national news coverage and calls for change, especially when followed, just months later, by the targeted killing of 9-year-old Tyshawn Lee.

Nearly nine years later, two men charged with Amari’s killing are standing trial at the Leighton Criminal Court Building before two separate juries selected last week. Jamal Joiner, 29, and Rasheed Martin, 28, are charged with murder and other felonies for allegedly killing Amari, injuring another woman and trying to kill their true target.

Cook County prosecutors said during opening statements that the shooting was the result of a feud that had been heating up for several months until it came to a head just before midnight in the 1100 block of North Harding Avenue in the Humboldt Park neighborhood.

They alleged that Joiner and Martin were aiming for someone else whom they had gotten in previous confrontations with but instead hit Amari and a 26-year-old woman.

“They were celebrating life,” Stevens said of the victims.

Defense attorneys, though, each pointed the finger at the other defendant as responsible for the shootings. The double jury trial means that each defendant has his own jury to weigh guilt or innocence.

The jurors at times selectively hear evidence and were not present for opening statements for the other defendant, a system that is often more efficient than holding separate trials for each co-defendant, though it prolongs the trial itself, scheduled to last about two weeks.

Prosecutors said Martin and Joiner were “on a mission to kill” Duntae Manuel after several conflicts, including one that afternoon in which shots were fired.

“They were talking about how they needed to get rid of Duntae,” Stevens said. “And that’s exactly what they went to do.”

Katie Fritz, an assistant public defender representing Martin, argued that Martin only fired one shot, while Joiner fired the shots that killed Amari and injured Malerie Britton.

“Jamal … opens fire down the block and tragically, ladies and gentlemen, Amari is killed,” Fritz said. “That finally gets Jamal off the street, much to the relief of Rasheed and the community.”

Afterward, Martin’s jury left the courtroom and Joiner’s defense team got their turn, arguing the opposite in opening statements: that Martin was the killer.

Raul Aguilar, an assistant public defender representing Joiner, argued that his client was recovering from surgery and “couldn’t be running around.”

“The events of that night were the culmination of months of fighting and chaos on Thomas and Harding,” Aguilar said, referring to the intersection where the shooting happened.

Amari’s mother, Amber Hailey, was the prosecution’s first witness, growing tearful as she looked at a smiling photograph of her son.

Hailey recalled the morning of that Fourth of July when she got her son dressed and ready for the day. They spent time at her aunt’s house before his father picked him up for fireworks, she testified.

Around 9 p.m., Hailey said she talked to Amari on the phone, who told her they were going to the park for fireworks.

“It was the last time I spoke to him,” she said.