The 16-year-old charged as an adult in the fatal shooting of a woman last year denies guilt and claims in letters to the judge presiding over his case a Fort Wayne gang leader committed the murder.
Senaca James is charged with murder and also faces a sentencing enhancement for using a gun in the Dec. 22 shooting that left Dominique Taylor, 18, dead. James is the only person charged in the case, though court documents filed last month show at least one other person might have been involved.
Fort Wayne police also have said they expect another juvenile to be charged but have not named that person.
Taylor was killed as she sat in the passenger seat of a car parked at an apartment complex on the city's south side. Shots were fired from outside the 2014 Chevy Sonic – through the windshield, investigators said – and she was struck twice.
A witness told police she saw “two male subjects” standing by the car, and one fired into the vehicle.
One of the letters from James to Allen Superior Court Judge Fran Gull says he fired a shot into the air before Taylor was killed. A “highly known person in Fort Wayne for shooting at people” fired the fatal shots and threatened James' life if he snitched, a letter dated Feb. 11 said.
The Journal Gazette is not naming the person identified in the letter as the killer because he has not been charged.
“I honestly did not commit this crime,” James wrote.
A three-day trial is scheduled July 28, and he faces up to 85 years in prison.
The letters represent the first public comments from James since he was formally charged Jan. 21, and they present an alternative account of events outlined by police in a probable cause affidavit filed that day.
Officers were called about 10:40 p.m. to Villa Capri Apartments & Townhomes on South Anthony Boulevard, where they found Taylor in the car. She was involved earlier in a fight “over the return of property and finances,” according to the affidavit, and went to the complex with a female witness not identified in the document.
The witness said she was there to meet a friend and saw the two males standing by the car. Several spent .380-caliber shell casings were found at the scene.
The affidavit says a “co-participant” told police he took part in a conversation between James and a witness.
“Co-participant advised that during this conversation these subjects admitted to him that they shot Dominique Taylor because of the fight that happened at the ... address a few hours prior,” Fort Wayne police Detective Donald Lewis wrote in the sworn statement. “Co-participant stated these subjects admitted to him that they shot and killed Dominique because she allegedly pointed a gun” at James' aunt.
Detectives said they found three handguns – two were .380-caliber weapons – at the co-participant's home, court documents said.
A letter from James says Taylor and her friends “jumped my cousin” and held a gun to the head of his aunt.
“My goal after I heard that was to take D. Taylor's gun from her ... not shoot her nor kill her and also all there was suppose to be was a fight between those girls but a pt. 2 where it was going to be fair this time around,” he wrote.
James – himself a former gang member, he admits – stayed by the car and fired into the air to scare Taylor from the car, to force her into the fight. The person identified by James as a gang leader took a revolver from James, told everyone to move away and shot into the car, according to the letter.
“I was highly scared for my life at that point on our way to his home he was like '(expletive) I think I killed her' and put both the guns to his head and I grabbed them and said please stop!!” James wrote.
He told police in a phone call after his arrest the driver of the car in which Taylor died was lured to the complex “under the guise of buying marijuana edibles from her so they could fight her,” charging documents said.
A second letter was also filed Feb. 11, court records said. That message from James urges Gull to throw out the case, notes that a .380-caliber handgun was found in another person's home and offers “messages and screenshots on the behalf of this case.”
“Please get me out of here please!” he wrote. “I would do anything that you guys want give you any information you guys need about ANYTHING please let me go I don't want to be a part of this situation I will testify give full statement of what he did everything I want my freedom back please Mrs. Gull!”
Jamie Duffy of The Journal Gazette contributed to this story.