CHESTERFIELD, Va. (WRIC) — A four-day jury trial got underway on Tuesday morning for the man accused of firing shots at a Chesterfield mall last year that resulted in the death of one man.
William Ezell Taylor, 23, is facing second-degree murder, malicious wounding, child neglect, and several firearm charges including shooting in an occupied building. On Tuesday, Taylor pleaded not guilty to all charges. The slew of charges stem from an incident at Chesterfield Towne Center on June 23, 2020, that killed Kimani O. Donovan, a 22-year-old.
Around 6 p.m. the popular mall was shut down and swarmed with a heavy police presence after shots rang out inside the food court that was filled with shoppers. Chesterfield Police said that a fight broke out between Donovan and Taylor and Taylor, who fled the scene after the shooting, opened fire during the scuffle.
Donovan died at the hospital from his injuries on July 5 after being shot multiple times and left on the food court floor. Taylor was arrested by authorities hours later on account of video evidence and witness descriptions.
On day one of the trial, 14 jurors were selected out of a 53-person pool. Although a jury will be determining the verdict, they will not be in charge of sentencing in this case– the judge will. Opening statements were given by both the prosecution and defense.
During the Commonwealth’s statement, attorneys projected several images of Donovan and his father on a large screen as they introduced the victim. Attorneys told the jury that Donovan was left to die on the floor alone, after being shot three times by Taylor. She went on to say that Taylor was at the mall with his mother, sister and 2-year-old son on the 23rd, when he started a fight with Donovan over a woman. She added Donovan had no romantic relationship with the woman.
The Commonwealth also argued that Taylor recklessly opened fire in the mall putting the lives of those in the community, as well as his own son, in danger. She added that a bullet grazed Taylor’s sister, yet after shooting Taylor ran away with no regard for his own child or the victim.
Next, the defendant’s attorneys gave their opening statement. Taylor’s attorney claims that the 23-year-old Petersburg father fired in self-defense.
He explained that Taylor has fear and anxiety that someone is ‘after him’ and going to hurt him, which stems from a series of events and Taylor being shot:
- 2016- Taylor was a victim of breaking and entering and was shot
- 2017- Taylor’s brother was jumped and shot in the back
- 2017- Shots were fired into Taylor’s fathers home
- 2017- Taylor had a gun pulled on him –randomly
- 2018- Shots were fired into Taylor’s mother’s home
- 2018- Shots were fired into Taylor’s stepfather’s car
The defense stated because of these six key incidents, Taylor had a firearm for protection and fear. They add that Taylor was at the mall on the 23rd with his son, mother, and sister to buy clothes for his 2-year-old child.
Attorney’s claim Donovan was the aggressor and was repeatedly hitting Taylor, who could not get away, so in an effort to save his life–Taylor started shooting. The defense also stated that Donovan’s friends were holding Taylor around the waist during the fight, however, on Tuesday Donovan’s friends testified under oath that it was not true and they only tried to help break up the fight.
Video evidence will be key in the case. Shortly after the incident, the video was circulating online showing the altercation. On Tuesday, both the prosecution and defense stated they have video to prove their arguments. The video was not shown to jurors yet, but police body camera video was shown.
In the bodycam footage, you can see the victim on the food court floor with at least two gunshot wounds, telling police to hurry. You then see an off-duty first responder using restaurant napkins to try and stop the bleeding until medics were cleared to enter the mall.
After opening statements, the prosecution called several witnesses including Donovan’s father, two friends who were with Donovan at the mall, Chesterfield Police officers, witnesses, and Taylor’s younger sister.
Cymere Branch, Taylor’s sister, stated she was with her brother at the mall and was grazed by a bullet when the shots were fired. She said she witnessed her brother being picked up in the air and ran over to help. She also said after she realized she was shot, the family got into her mother’s car and drove to the hospital and dropped Taylor and his son at her grandmother’s house.
The trial continues throughout the week and is expected to wrap up on Friday.