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Late juror, emotional testimony mark Baldwin murder trial

By Erin Smith

The start of day three in the murder trial for Christopher Baldwin was delayed on Wednesday morning by more than one hour and 45 minutes due to a juror who was late to court.

Baldwin is on trial for the November 2015 shooting death of Darrell Council.

The juror was admonished by Judge Imelda Pate regarding her tardiness.  The juror apologized to the court and explained she did not hear her alarm clock.

“My admonition to you is we begin court at designated times and I will not tolerate any further tardiness,” said Judge Pate.

Next, the jury heard emotional testimony from Isaiah Long regarding his relationship with Darrel and Antwan Council and the activities of November 8, 2015.

Long testified that he grew up in northern New Jersey but had family in Bladen County. He said he is a cousin of Darrell and Antwan Council. He stated he moved to Bladen County permanently in 2013 and attended West Bladen High School.

Long testified that he knew Shanika Mitchell because she dated a friend of his. He told the court he did not know Montise Mitchell was her brother. He testified he did not know Christopher Baldwin.

Long testified that on November 8, 2015, he woke up and went to the Council brothers’ home on Owen Hill Road. He testified when he arrived, there was a car in the drive way with two individuals inside. Long testified he did recognize the two individuals in the car.

Long testified that when he walked inside of the residence, he heard laughter coming from a back room. When he walked into the room, he saw Shanika Mitchell and D’Nayza Downing with Antwan Council. Long testified Darrell Council was in the hallway.

Bladen County Assistant District Attorney Quentin McGee asked if he had seen Downing with the Council brothers before. Long testified he had not.

McGee asked Long what Downing and Mitchell were doing at the Council home, and he testified that they were asking for “weed” (marijuana). Long said they obtained some marijuana and then Downing and Mitchell left with the two individuals in the car.

Long said after they left, he and the Council brothers obtained marijuana for themselves and they sat outside smoking and talking with one another. He said they were not allowed to smoke inside the house.

Long testified that later, Downing and Mitchell wanted Darrell and Antwan Council to come to Shanika Mitchell’s home and pick them up because they wanted to smoke some more.

Long said when they arrived back at the house, he got in the Suburban and the atmosphere was different. He said Downing and Mitchell were acting secretive and closed off. Long said they were on their cell phones but he could not see the nature of the messages.

He said he eventually left.  When asked why he left, Long said, “I felt like the odd man out.”

He became emotional on the witness stand as he testified it was not too long after he arrived back home that he received the news of the shooting. Long said when he arrived at the hospital he learned Darrell Council had died of his wounds.

“He was well respected from the older “cats” to the big boys,” said an emotional Long.

Defense Attorney Gregory Bullard asked Long if he was aware at the time that Shanika Mitchell was 16 years old and a student at West Bladen High School. Long replied he did not.

Next, D’Nayza Downing testified about her relationship with the Council brothers and Montise and Shanika Mitchell. She stated Shanika Mitchell is the sister of her child’s father, Montise Mitchell. She said they attended church together.

Downing testified in court that she does not have any contact with Montise Mitchell. She testified that she knew Christopher Baldwin through her association with Montise Mitchell.

Downing testified that she knew of the Council brothers due to a family member that lived nearby.

She also testified about her personal relationship with Montise Mitchell. “It was fun at first, but then he became abusive,” said Downing.

She testified about the events of November 8, 2015.  Assistant District Attorney McGee displayed several photographs for the jurors to see regarding text messages and Facebook postings made by D’Nayza Downing. Downing testified regarding the text messages exchanged between herself and Shanika Mitchell. Assistant District Attorney McGee also showed the jurors an exchange of Facebook messages between Downing and Antwan Council, who is a brother of Darrell Council.

Downing testified that on November 7, she assisted Shanika Mitchell with planning a birthday party for Montise Mitchell, at a hotel in Fayetteville. She testified the party took place in a suite at the hotel and that once the guests left, Shanika Mitchell stayed with Christopher Baldwin in one room and she (Downing) stayed with Montise Mitchell.

Downing also testified that on the afternoon of the shooting, Montise Mitchell drove Downing and Shanika Mitchell to Shanika’s mother’s home. Downing told the court that two men arrived later in the afternoon in a white car and wanted to purchase marijuana. She said she messaged Antwan Council about possibly getting some marijuana from him. He later replied to her message and arrangements were made to meet.

She described the sequence of events of the evening leading up to the shooting. Downing said the two men took the two women to the Council home and they went inside to wait for the marijuana to be delivered. After the marijuana was delivered, the two men took the women back to Shanika’s house.

Downing said it was later decided to return to the Council home and she sent a text to Antwan Council about “hanging out.” Downing described for the court the direction of travel of the vehicle Council was driving when he and his brother, Antwan, picked up Downing and Mitchell that evening.

Downing testified the four traveled Twisted Hickory Road to Owen Hill Road where the Council brothers resided. She said they also returned to the home on Center Road by the same route.

She also answered questions regarding text messages being exchanged between herself and Shanika Mitchell. Downing testified that everyone in the car was smoking marijuana and “on their phones.”

Downing testified she was also texting with Montise Mitchell. She said she was unaware there was an issue between Montise Mitchell and the Council brothers. She told the court Montise Mitchell was asking her questions about where she was and who she was with. Downing said she texted Shanika Mitchell in the back seat to ask how she should respond to Montise Mitchell’s questions.

Downing testified that while at the Council residence on Owen Hill Road, Isaiah Long, Robert Council, Darrell Council and Antwan Council were all present in addition to Shanika Mitchell and Downing herself.

She testified that when Darrell and Antwan dropped the women off at Shanika’s house a black car similar to one driven earlier in the day by Montise Mitchell was there but neither Montise Mitchell nor Christopher Baldwin were inside the house or in the yard.

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