NEW HAVEN, Ind. (WANE) – By the time officers arrived at the home, they found an 18-year-old kneeling by the front door crying with blood on his hands.
Inside, emergency crews had already pronounced a 16-year-old boy with a gunshot wound to his chest dead at the scene.
In the days after police were called to that south side New Haven home Aug. 24, investigators did not release the manner of death in the killing of Bryson L. Patterson, Jr., especially since the main witness – the distraught 18-year-old officers encountered at the scene – claimed the teen had accidentally shot himself.
Newly released evidence, though, suggests otherwise.
Allen County Prosecutors on Thursday formally charged Damarion D. Laster with a felony count of murder in Patterson’s death, accusing him of using a handgun to shoot his friend and then trying to hide evidence afterward.
Laster had been hanging out with Patterson at the home, in the 10600 block of Seiller Road, the day of the shooting. Throughout interviews, the overall arch of his story about what happened that afternoon remained largely the same, according to Allen Superior Court documents.
At the scene, Laster told initial responders Patterson pulled a gun out of a black bag with a single strap while the two were in the living room. He warned Patterson that “there was one in the head,” meaning a round was chambered and ready to shoot, according to court documents.
Patterson then said there was not a live round chambered and that he would prove it, Laster said in court documents.
That’s when Patterson turned the gun on himself and pulled the trigger, according to Laster’s story.
When he retold the story for detectives at the New Haven Police Department, Laster said he was picked up by a woman who lived at the home and took him there. At the home, the two teens were watching a video chat of Patterson’s girlfriend. Patterson became angry when Laster commented on the girl’s attractiveness, he said in court documents.
A scuffle ensued, and Patterson grabbed a bag with a gun and told Laster “I’ll pop you,” court documents said. That’s when Laster warned about the live round and Patterson turned the gun on himself, he said in court documents.
“The Defendant stated he was sitting on the little couch in the living room and Bryson was sitting on the big couch and when Bryson shot himself, the Defendant hid the gun in the bedroom and then attempted to render aid to Bryson,” an investigator wrote in court documents.
Laster said in court documents Patterson uttered, “I’m shot.”
He also admitted the gun was his but that he and Patterson shared the firearm, according to court documents.
An autopsy conducted a day later began to show Laster’s story did not add up, court documents said.
A pathologist found a graze wound from a bullet on Patterson’s right forearm. This wound matched up with the wound on his chest, meaning the bullet likely grazed Patterson’s arm as he tried to raise it in a defensive position, according to court documents.
The pathologist also found no gunpowder burned into the teen’s chest, which suggested the gun would’ve had to be more than nine inches away at the time of the shooting.
Plus, the pathologist told investigators, the graze wound on the right-handed Patterson’s right arm meant he would’ve been holding the gun with his left hand if Laster’s story were true, court documents said.
When the pathologist placed a projectile rod into Patterson’s chest to track the trajectory of the bullet that killed him, it showed that the bullet could have come from where Laster had been sitting in the living room at the time of the shooting, according to court documents.
The bullet struck Patterson’s heart, right lung and kidney and the pathologist ruled the manner of his death a homicide.
Detectives also interviewed two people described as “homeowners or renters” of where Patterson died. One of those witnesses said she saw Patterson and Laster wrestling around at one point, but she told them to stop because she and the other witness were going to take a nap, according to court documents.
When the two were in bed, they heard a gunshot. They called emergency dispatchers immediately, they said in court documents. One of those witnesses said they saw Laster bring a black bag with a single strap to the home, but did not know there had been a gun inside.
A search of the home immediately after the shooting turned up the gun in a bedroom, just where Laster said he put it before rendering aid to Patterson, court documents aid. No ammunition was loaded into the firearm and no ammunition was found in the home.
Officers also could not find a spent shell casing.
Investigators asked Laster several times during interviews if he had removed the spent shell casing, but he denied touching or moving anything, according to court documents.
“Your affiant believed that the evidence collected during this investigation supports the Defendant shooting Bryson and then trying to conceal evidence afterward,” an investigator wrote in court documents.
A warrant for Laster’s arrest has been issued, but it is not clear yet whether he’s been booked into Allen County Lockup.