The young victim of a gang rape last year in Watts testified Tuesday that one of her attackers ordered her to "say nothing" about his involvement in the subsequent shooting death of 82-year-old Viola McClain.
But the painful testimony of the 14-year-old girl left unclear whether the attacker actually confessed to killing McClain, who was struck by gunfire moments after the gang rape on July 26, 1996.
Tuesday's 15-minute testimony by the girl capped the second day of trial for two defendants, ages 16 and 13, accused of gunning down McClain while aiming for her grandson. Authorities allege that the teenagers shot at Dumar Starks, 34, because he confronted them after they started a fire in the abandoned duplex on 111th Street where the girl had been sexually assaulted.
On Monday, Starks told the Downey courtroom that he recognized the 16-year-old as the one who pointed a 9-millimeter semiautomatic handgun at him moments before the shooting.
But on Tuesday, conflicting testimony by several prosecution witnesses left in doubt the younger boy's whereabouts at the time McClain was slain. (That younger boy and five other youths already have been convicted of sexually assaulting the girl.)
The girl, for example, recalled Tuesday that she and the younger boy, then 11, spoke moments after the shooting.
Refusing to look at him or his co-defendant except to briefly acknowledge their identities, the girl testified that she spoke to him shortly after the shooting.
"Why did you do that?" the girl said she asked him.
"What did he say?" asked Deputy Dist. Atty. Eleanor Hunter.
"He said, 'Don't say nothing about that,' " the girl replied.
But under questioning by the younger defendant's attorney, Dwight Pearson, the girl acknowledged that she had earlier lied to detectives about having actually seen the youth shoot McClain.
And later, Superior Court Judge Cecil Mills sought to clarify the girl's testimony about the younger boy's involvement.
"Did he say anything else to you about the lady being shot?" the judge asked.
"No," the girl answered.
Earlier, the case also seemed to encounter problems when another prosecution witness identified the older of the two defendants in the courtroom as the one involved in the shooting even though he previously had picked out the younger boy during a review of police mugshots.
Hoping to reconcile the discrepancy, the judge asked witness Billy Morgan, a neighbor of McClain, if the younger defendant in the courtroom was the one who fired the handgun that night.
"No," Morgan, said, "he was not."
Amid the conflicting testimony, one prosecution witness Tuesday seemed to bolster the contention of McClain's grandson that the older defendant was involved in the shooting.
But even there, witness Mandy Carter acknowledged under cross-examination that she could not be exact about what the older defendant allegedly told friends who had gathered at her home not long after the shooting.
Carter, who lived in the nearby Nickerson Gardens housing project at the time, told the court that on the night of the shooting, she overheard one of her daughters talking with the older defendant.
"[He] asked [her], 'What did my gun really hit?' " Carter testified. And someone, Carter added, later told the boy, "A lady was shot."
But under cross-examination by the older defendant's attorney, Kenneth Aid, Carter acknowledged that she could not be sure if he talked about a bullet or a gun or if even if it was just "a bullet" striking the woman.
"I don't know," Carter said, adding wearily, "it's been a long time."