Suspect in mall shooting pleads not guilty

Suspect in mall shooting pleads not guilty »Play Video
Barry L. Saunders is seen during his arraignment at the Maleng Regional Justice Center in Kent on Monday, December 8, 2008.
KENT, Wash. -- A man accused of shooting two teens inside crowded Southcenter Mall pleaded not guilty Monday in King County Superior Court.

Barry L. Saunders Jr., 21, has been charged with second-degree murder and second-degree assault in the November 22 shooting that killed 16-year-old Diaquan L. Jones and wounded 15-year-old Jermaine McGowan.

Saunders' attorney, David Gehrke, said his client acted in self defense when he opened fire because he was coming to the aid of his younger brother, who Saunders said was being beaten.

"His little brother was able to call him and say 'come help,'" Gehrke said. "I feel sorry for the other families. They've lost a son. One's been injured, one is dead. Barry understands that, as tough as that is for him, he's alive and his family's appreciative of that."

Outside the courtroom, Jones' grief-stricken grandmother said the boy was not a troublemaker.

"He was just a young kid, just growing up, I mean, a loving kid. That's what I would want people today to know," she said.

Senior Deputy Prosecutor Scott O'Toole said the shooting was the result of a dispute that got out of control.

"The defendant allegedly came in and used a firearm when nobody else was armed or presenting that type of threat to him," O'Toole said.

In charging papers, witnesses said Jones and three friends threw gang signs at two others and insulted one of their friends, who had been shot earlier.

A fistfight broke out and two shots were fired. Shoppers and mall employees fled in panic.

The mall was jammed with thousands of pre-Thanksgiving Day shoppers when the shooting occurred. During an ensuing six-hour sweep of the complex by police from numerous jurisdictions, employees and customers were allowed to exit in small groups.

Police said witnesses and surveillance video identified Saunders as the gunman, according to charging papers.

"He committed a crime in a very public place," Tukwila Police spokesman Mike Murphy said. "There were witnesses, there was evidence to collect. And we were able to track down those leads and identify somebody."

Saunders was captured in Portland on November 26 after Portland police responded to a report of unwanted persons and possible drug activity at a hotel.

Officers who responded found Saunders near a car in the hotel parking lot. As they spoke with him, they learned fairly quickly who Saunders was and that he was wanted in the mall shooting.

Investigators believe Saunders took off immediately after the mall shooting, but they did not know how long the young man had been in Portland or what he was doing there.

Hours after the shooting at the Southcenter Mall, a man was fatally shot at a restaurant in Seattle's First Hill neighborhood.

Later Sunday night, two teens were wounded in a shooting in South Seattle.

Witnesses told KOMO News the victims all knew each other, and said the violence is part of a turf war between rival gangs.

Investigators said they're not surprised the shooters and victims in each case hail from the South End and the Central District, but they're looking at the the cases individually and won't confirm whether the incidents are related.

Saunders remains in jail and is being held in isolation for his own protection.

"He was threatened in Portland, he's been threatened here," Gehrke said. "It's an ugly situation."

"You shoot one, you kill another one. It's crazy," Jones' grandmother said.