The Tyler Winstead case had sent investigators on false trails since day one 13 months ago.
Elijah Yusuff, then 13, told a lie as soon as he spoke to police: He said his friend Tyler, 14, was shot in a drive-by on April 5, 2012 on Hill Street in Wilkes-Barre, sending investigators chasing a bogus lead.
Then police learned Yusuff was the shooter but couldn’t fully investigate that story because Yusuff’s mother, Angelina DeAbreu, 31, was charged with covering up the shooting.
The case never got to the jury this week because of unforeseen circumstances. A judge dismissed the most serious charges and DeAbreu pleaded guilty to three related charges Thursday.
“It’s frustrating,” First Assistant District Attorney Samuel Sanguedolce said. “The one good thing that came out of this was (Winstead’s) story got to be told. The public got to learn exactly what happened on April 5, 2012.”
Luzerne County Detective Daniel Beky testified Thursday at DeAbreu’s trial there were “red flags” early in the case that made him suspicious.
Beky testified he first became suspicious Yusuff’s story wasn’t a drive-by shooting because Yusuff had “too much” information.
Typically, Beky said, someone involved in such an incident will not remember key details, especially someone so young.
The make, color and model of the get-away car, a description of the shooter right down to what kind of sneakers he was wearing and that the car had chrome around its tail lights.
Beky said shortly after the investigation began police spoke to a woman who was in a parked car on Hill Street waiting for Bible study class to begin at the nearby Mt. Zion Baptist Church.
The information that the woman provided, Beky said, also didn’t corroborate with Yusuff’s drive-by story, adding to Beky’s suspicion.
Beky said during an interview with DeAbreu at Wilkes-Barre police headquarters, she had to be asked to stop text messaging – prosecutors alleged they later learned DeAbreu was text messaging a friend from her cell phone about hiding a firearm.
Yusuff testified Tuesday that he and Winstead were in his mother’s bedroom and that Yusuff wanted to show him the firearm that he had access to previously, even though his mother told him not to touch the gun.
Yusuff pointed the gun at Winstead and fired twice. The gun clicked the first time and the second time a shot was fired – hitting Winstead in the chest. Prosecutors said the bullet passed through Winstead’s heart and lung, ultimately killing him.
Yusuff testified he panicked after realizing Winstead was shot, and grabbed him under the arms and dragged him down a flight of stairs.
Beky testified that while dragging Winstead’s body, Winstead’s shoes came off and were then placed next to his body outside where Yusuff then claimed Winstead was shot in a drive-by.
In interviews with investigators just hours after Winstead’s death, Yusuff described the shooter, the vehicle and even gave a detailed description of the shooter for a police sketch artist.
The sketch, Yusuff said, looked similar to a man named Leroy that worked at a local auto repair shop.
DeAbreu told investigators it couldn’t have been Leroy, and investigators later learned Leroy was working at the time of the alleged shooting.
Wilkes-Barre Detective Brent Sevinson testified Thursday that DeAbreu then suggested the shooter might have been a Jamaican man who lives in the city’s Heights section.
Prosecutors argued DeAbreu was aware of the real story – that her son shot Winstead – and she was trying to divert their attention away from the son.
She repeatedly told friends and investigators that there was not a firearm in the house, prosecutors said.
First Assistant District Attorney Samuel Sanguedolce said Friday when Yusuff spoke with police, he was very clear his mother told him she got rid of the gun.
But during a break in his testimony Tuesday, Yusuff met with his grandmother, grandfather and newborn baby brother. That meeting, Sanguedolce said, left the 14-year-old emotional and his testimony changed.
“Was the meeting intentional?” Sanguedolce said. “That’s exactly what I believe.”
Sanguedolce said Yusuff felt sorry or regretted what he was doing after the meeting, and his testimony changed. Yusuff was exhausted, confused and emotional and was answering the same questions with different answers.
“It’s emotionally exhausting going through (testimony that you shot your friend) and testifying against your mother,” Sanguedolce said. “Then, you meet your new baby brother … it was too much for him.”
During DeAbreu’s trial, it was revealed Yusuff was charged with involuntary manslaughter in Winstead’s death and is currently residing at a juvenile facility in Orefield, Pa. The maximum allowable disposition in juvenile court is placement at a facility until the age of 21. It is unknown if that is what Yusuff received.
“It’s not your average, everyday crime,” Sanguedolce said. “Anytime a child loses their life, the public pays more attention.”