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Teen accused of deadly shooting outside Menchville High School appears in court

Demari Batten faces multiple charges, including second-degree murder in the shooting death of 17-year-old Justice Dunham.

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — Family members of Demari Batten cried as they sat behind the 18-year-old during his hearing on second-degree murder charges on Thursday.

Family members of the victim, 17-year-old Justice Dunham, also sat in the pews as they waited to hear from the attorneys.

RELATED: Menchville High shooting suspect told police he fired his weapon while being assaulted

Now, new testimony is shedding more light on what happened the night Dunham was shot and killed outside a high school basketball game on December 14, 2021.

Newport News Police Detective T. Allen testified in court, saying he interviewed Batten shortly after the shooting. The detective said Batten rode to the basketball game with a friend and he brought his 9mm handgun with him, which he left in the passenger side of the car when he went into the school gym.

Det. Allen claimed Batten bought the gun around his 18th birthday from someone he knew. He went on to say Batten told him he left the game early to avoid a group of people after he and the group exchanged non-verbal gestures in the gymnasium.

As he waited by his friend's car charging his phone, Batten claimed an adult man came over and started attacking him. Batten told Allen out of fear someone would try to use his gun against him, he grabbed it from the car.

He told detectives when someone opened the driver's side door, that's when he shot in the direction to scare them away, but he ended up shooting and killing Woodside High School student, Justice Dunham.

Newport News Police Officer B. Fellman also testified, since she was one of the officers patrolling the high school parking lot that night. She recalled getting an alert from Officer Black, saying there was an incident in the front school parking lot.

Fellman said she did not hear any gunshot sounds, but when she drove around to the front, she found Dunham dressed in all black, face down in the grass. Fellman said she turned Dunham over to find he had a gunshot wound to his chest and he was not responding.

Fellman said she started CPR and other measures but could not save Dunham. She testified she saw Batten standing by the car in handcuffs, quietly cooperating with police.

Following the testimonies, Batten's attorney, James Brocceletti, asked the judge to dismiss the second-degree murder charge against Batten and replace it with voluntary manslaughter. Broccoletti said the main reason is because his client was defending himself. 

"He had told the police he had the weapon for protection because of concerns he had and people who had issues with him," said Broccoletti. "The only evidence they presented was the statement that Mr. Batten had made to police. Based on that statement, the only evidence was he acted as a result of these two men trying to get into the vehicle and he perceived they were there to do him harm, so he responded accordingly." 

The prosecution argued against this motion, saying the interview showed there was malice, intent at the time of the shooting.

In response, the judge denied the motion, saying it's too early in the court process to make that type of decision.

Broccoletti said Batten's family hoped for reduced charges.

"They're very distraught," said Broccoletti. "They're hoping the court would accept the argument that we made and either reduce or dismiss the charges, but they're determined and optimistic to move forward."

Det. Allen said Batten told him he did not see any of the other people, including Dunham, have any kind of weapon on them at the time. He added no one else tried grabbing Batten's gun before he shot and killed Dunham.

Batten is scheduled to appear in court again on Monday, April 11.

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