DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — A first-degree murder trial began Wednesday against a former student accused of being the getaway driver in an Iowa high school shooting that left two students dead and the program’s founder injured.
Prosecutors argued in opening statements that 20-year-old Bravon Tukes played a key role in planning the January shooting, the Des Moines Register reported.
Tukes is charged with two counts of first-degree murder, attempted murder and criminal gang participation. The shooter, 19-year-old Preston Walls, was convicted of second-degree murder and manslaughter last month.
Students Gionni Dameron, 18, and Rashad Carr, 16, died in the Jan. 23 shooting at Starts Right Here, an alternative program for at-risk students affiliated with the Des Moines public schools. Will Keeps, the founder of the school, suffered serious injuries in the shooting but has recovered.
Assistant Polk County Attorney Stephanie Cox told the jury that Tukes helped plan the attack after aspiring rapper Carr disparaged Tukes’ younger brother in a song. Tukes’ brother, 16-year-old Trevontay Jenkins, had died in a confrontation with Des Moines police on Dec. 26, 2022.
Tukes’ lawyer, Jamie Deremiah, told jurors that Tukes also lost a brother to a shooting in November 2022.
“In the midst of all this pain and sorrow, this young man is doing what he can to get by,” Deremiah said.
Deremiah said Tukes and the shooter exchanged messages saying some “weird stuff about killing cops” but that there was no real plot to do so and that they were “blowing off steam.”
Deremiah also argued that the police investigation lacked context.
Walls, the shooter, had been charged with first-degree murder, but jurors found him guilty of lesser charges. That seemed to indicate jurors accepted Walls’ claim that he fired on the students because he feared for his life.
Walls will be sentenced in November.
Defense attorneys acknowledged Walls killed the two students and shot Keeps, but they argued that he did so because he believed his life was in danger. Walls was set to graduate from the program two days after the shooting and said he thought Dameron and Carr would attack him when he left school because they wouldn’t have an opportunity later.
Defense lawyers noted during trial that Dameron was armed with a gun at the school on the day of the shooting.