Authorities believe Jeffrey “Banger J” Keith was a key player in a July 2011 shotgun shooting on Smith Avenue in Kingston that left two innocent bystanders wounded. But a jury disagreed. On Friday, April 27 the 22-year-old alleged Bloods gang member, who police say was also the prime suspect in a New Year’s Eve 2011 shooting that wounded three people, walked out of Ulster County Court a free man.
Keith, who faced up to 30 years in prison, was acquitted on two counts of felony assault, criminal use of a firearm and criminal possession of a weapon.
Police believe that Keith, along with Brian “BJones” Jones and Eric “E-Rock” Moon carried out the attack just after midnight on July 11 as retaliation for a beating Moon received following an altercation at the Grand Slam tavern the previous night. Police say the trio spent more than an hour driving around the city in a car driven by Danielle Van Leuven collecting and loading weapons and scouting out the house at 173 Smith Avenue where two brothers involved in the bar fight lived.
According to police the three, armed with a 12-gauge shotgun and a .357-caliber lever-action rifle obtained from Van Leuven’s brother, crept up on the house on foot and fired at least one shotgun blast at a group standing on the sidewalk outside the target house before fleeing in Van Leuven’s car. A 25-year-old man was struck in the chest with shotgun pellets and a 19-year-old woman was hit in the neck, causing a near-fatal injury. Police say both victims were innocent bystanders with no connection to the feud. Jones and Moon both pleaded guilty to charges stemming from the case and were sentenced to twelve and 14 years in state prison respectively.
Assistant district attorney Gerald Van Loan built his case around testimony from Van Leuven, who was granted an “immunity bath” after she testified about the shooting to a grand jury. Van Loan also used security camera footage from the Cedar Street Deli, a Department of Environmental Protection facility on Cornell Street, and the Sunoco station at the corner of Broadway andFranklin Street to corroborate Van Leuven’s testimony.
The clip from the Cedar Street Deli shows Keith and Moon getting into Van Leuven’s Nissan Maxima around 10:50 p.m., 70 minutes before the shootings. Video from the DEP facility shows the same car passing by en route, Van Loan argued, to a lot behind the Grand Slam where Van Lueven claimed the three men donned latex gloves provided by Keith before retrieving the guns from the trunk and struggling to load them from a hodge-podge of ammunition in a metal Samsonite briefcase.
The final piece of video evidence shows Van Leuven, Jones and Moon (but not Keith) at the Sunoco station six minutes after the shooting. Van Leuven testified that she dropped Keith off at the Broadmor apartments at the corner of Broadway and O’Neil Street where he threw his gloves in a dumpster and stashed the guns in an apartment.
In his closing argument, defense attorney Brian Rounds hammered on Van Lueven’s credibility, calling her testimony “lie after lie after lie.” Rounds pointed to the 70-minute gap between Keith’s only appearance on camera, getting into the Nissan Maxima, and the shooting and suggested that Van Leuven and Moon had in fact dropped him off at a girlfriend’s place on Furnace Street before proceeding on their errand.
Rounds also slammed the prosecution for failing to call to the witness stand a chemist from the New York State Police lab to testify about DNA tests conducted on two pairs of latex gloves found near the crime scene and the guns used in the shooting. Rounds said after the trial that the DNA tests implicated other defendants in the case, but not Keith. But without the chemist on hand to testify, the results could not be shown to the jury.