HOUSTON (CN) – A black man is in a Houston jail facing capital murder charges after confessing he was involved in a drive-by shooting that left a 7-year-old black girl dead, police said Sunday, ending speculation a white shooter had randomly targeted the girl’s family.
Acting on a tip they got from a civil rights activist who had put up a $100,000 reward for leads on Jazmine Barnes’ killer, Harris County sheriff’s deputies pulled Eric Black Jr., 20, over on Saturday for failing to use a turn signal, Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said at a news conference Sunday.
Black reportedly told police he was driving a rented SUV from which his passenger, Larry Woodruffe, a 24-year-old black man, fired several shots from a 9mm pistol into LaPorsha Washington’s car around 7 a.m. Dec. 30.
Driving to a grocery store with her four daughters that Sunday morning, Washington said when she heard the gunshots she threw herself over her eldest daughter in the front seat and yelled “Get down!” to her three daughters in the backseat.
A bullet hit Washington’s 7-year-old daughter, Barnes, in the head and killed her.
The family and witnesses told police they believed the shooter was a white man in a red pickup truck seen on surveillance pulling away from the scene.
Police released a sketch of the man and a black Houston community leader publicly stated he believed Barnes’ shooting was race related and connected to an unsolved, seemingly random August 2017 shooting of a black man and his grandmother in the same area where Barnes was killed.
Sheriff Gonzalez declined to endorse that theory last week. He said Sunday he believed the family had misidentified the shooter in the heat of the moment.
“We do not believe in any way that the family, as we’ve said from the beginning, that they’ve been involved in anything nefarious. It just went down very quickly. The gunfire erupted. We’re talking about small children. They witnessed something very traumatic. It’s likely the last thing they did see was indeed that truck and the driver in that truck,” Gonzalez said at the news conference.
The family’s attorney S. Lee Merritt and civil rights activist and writer Shaun King put up a reward Jan. 2 for any leads on the shooter. The reward stood at $100,000 on Saturday when Gonzalez said that sheriff’s deputies, following a tip from King, arrested Black, the Associated Press reported.
Following his confession, Black told detectives the murder weapon was at his house and identified the alleged shooter, Woodruffe, from a booking photo, the Houston Chronicle reported.
Police arrested Woodruffe on Saturday night on an unrelated felony drug possession charge and a magistrate refused his request for release on a no-fee personal bond at a detention hearing Sunday morning, citing his suspected involvement in Barnes’ murder, court records show.
Prosecutors have yet to charge him for Barnes’ murder. He has a long criminal history, including a 2017 conviction for choking a family member.
Black told detectives Barnes and her family were not the intended targets, and he and Woodruffe had mistakenly thought they recognized the family’s car, the Chronicle reported.
Black could be sentenced to death if he is convicted of the capital murder charge. Under Texas law, any accomplice in a capital murder case can be punished as if they are as equally responsible as the killer.
Barnes’ funeral is scheduled for Tuesday at noon at the Community of Faith Church in northwest Houston.
Former NBA star Shaquille O’Neal is helping pay for the funeral.