Prosecutors say gang retaliation claiming lives of innocent people

ATLANTA — Three young men are on trial in a mistaken identity murder, and prosecutors say the case is part of a bigger problem of gang violence and retaliation.

Darius Bottoms, 18, was shot and killed in June 2014 as he drove his car on Legacy Drive in southwest Atlanta. He was the nephew of Atlanta City Councilwoman Keisha Lance Bottoms.

The investigation revealed the victim was allegedly mistaken as a rival gang member.

Rashad Barber, 18, Ryan Bowdery, 23, and David Dajunta Wallace, 22, were indicted on charges including murder, aggravated assault and participation in criminal street gang activity.

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Prosecutors say the case highlights a growing trend of gang retaliation violence happening across metro Atlanta.

District Attorney Paul Howard said most of the violent crimes that come into his office are gang-related.

He said retaliation is a terrible trend in which anyone can become “collateral damage.”

One of those impacted is high school community baseball coach Jasen Williams, stepdad to one defendant and a victim in another shooting. Both incidents are key to the prosecution’s theory of escalating retaliation.

The prosecution’s timeline includes several retaliatory acts:

June 6, 2014 – A car theft from one gang’s territory

June 9, 2014 – A retaliatory car theft from the home of a member of a second gang

June 10, 2014 – One gang fires randomly in the other gang’s territory, wounding innocent victim Ebony Ware in her home

June 12, 2014 – Williams is shot three times at his home as the retaliation escalates

June 13, 2014 – A gang member mistakenly thinks he sees the car stolen in retaliation. He shoots the driver, Bottoms.

Wallace’s attorney, Ken Shepherd, said his client is innocent of the murder and gang charges. He said Wallace was in a car when the murder happened out of his sight and was furious about it after he learned what happened.

Attorney Nefertara Clark says her client, Bowdery, was not at the murder, is not a gang member and is innocent of all charges.

Barber’s lawyer, Linda Day, said her client has an alibi, wasn’t at the murder, isn’t a gang member and is innocent of all charges.

The defense said they extend sympathies to the Bottoms family.

Howard said in another instance, one murder led to as many as 37 other crimes in retaliation.

It started with the shooting death of Donovan Thomas, 26, in 2015.

The DA said he believes as many as four other murders happened because of Thomas’ death.

Police are still searching for his killer.