An Akron woman testified Thursday that she went along with the Tyus brothers as they randomly shot people in Akron last July because she feared for her own life.
Cheyenne James said she was even willing to kill if it meant Orlando and Donyea Tyus didn’t turn on her.
James said she pointed a gun at the head of a 51-year-old woman and pulled the trigger. The weapon didn’t fire, and the woman escaped.
“Why were you willing to pull the trigger?” Assistant Prosecutor Jonathan Baumoel asked while questioning James during the Tyus brothers’ joint murder trial.
“Because I didn’t want to get killed,” responded James, who remained mostly calm and unemotional during several hours of testimony.
James, who received a plea deal in exchange for her testimony, was a key witness in the trial of the Tyus brothers, who are accused of randomly choosing people across Akron to shoot in the early morning hours of July 7, 2018. Prosecutors say two people died, while two others escaped after a gun malfunctioned.
Donyea Tyus, 30, and Orlando Tyus, 28, are both charged with numerous felonies, including two counts each of aggravated murder. Their trial in Summit County Common Pleas Judge Alison McCarty’s courtroom is expected to last into next week. The brothers say they are innocent.
James, 21, pleaded guilty in February to one count of felonious assault and is scheduled to be sentenced Aug. 5. In exchange for her testimony against the Tyus brothers, prosecutors agreed not to charge her for the two murders or with attempted murder.
James, dressed in a striped jail uniform, testified that she is a drug addict who, at the time of the shootings, was using fentanyl daily and supporting her drug habit by selling her body. She said Donyea and Orlando Tyus came to the drug house where she was staying on July 7 and asked her to go for a ride.
James said she wasn’t sure what they were going to do, though she assumed they might get high. She said the brothers talked about “body for body,” but she didn’t know what this meant.
James said they stopped behind a parked car on Schiller Avenue and saw two Asian men. She said Orlando jumped out and shot one of the men, while Donyea tried to shoot the other man but his gun didn’t fire.
James said they next drove to Arlington Street and Fifth Avenue, and parked. She said Donyea approached an African-American man in a driveway, shook his hand and shot him in the head.
After this, James said the brothers told her she had watched them each kill someone and, unless she followed suit, she’d be next. They said they were initiating her for a new group and she’d be the “first lady.”
James said they walked a few blocks and saw a 51-year-old woman. She said one of the brothers enticed the woman into an alley with the promise of drugs. She said Donyea handed her a gun and she pointed it at the woman’s head and pulled the trigger. It didn’t fire.
James said Donyea tried to fire the gun, but it again malfunctioned. She said the woman tried to run and Orlando tripped her. James said she grabbed the woman and the woman kicked her and ran.
James was arrested on drug possession charges Aug. 6 and a week later Akron detectives questioned her about the shootings. She said she told them what happened and testified before a grand jury in September.
Defense attorneys for the Tyus brothers, however, questioned James at length about the deal she received and inconsistencies in statements she made to detectives, to the grand jury and in court.
Joe Gorman, one of the attorneys for Orlando Tyus, asked James why she initially told detectives she pointed the gun past the woman’s head so she wouldn’t shoot her if the gun fired.
“You lied to the detective, didn’t you?” Gorman asked.
“Yes,” James admitted.
Jeff James, one of the attorneys for Donyea Tyus, asked James – who had a cellphone with her – why she didn’t call for help.
“At no point did you utilize the phone to thwart murder,” he said.
“Who’s to say they wouldn’t have turned the gun on me?” she responded.
Jeff James, who isn’t related to Cheyenne, said the men who did these random shootings are “scary people” who might retaliate.
“Knowing that fear of those people who would do something like that would be a strong motivation not to identify those people for fear of what they might do, correct?” he asked James.
“No,” she responded.
Baumoel asked James if she had ever pointed to anyone besides the Tyus brothers as being responsible. She said she had not.
The woman who survived the shooting attempt testified that she has been a cocaine addict for 30 years and supports her habit by being a prostitute.
She said she went into the alleyway that morning hoping to score drugs but instead had a young woman pull a gun on her. She said one of two African-American men took the gun and held it to her head.
“Are you ready to die?” she said he asked.
“No!” she said she responded. “Why are you doing this?”
When the gun didn’t work, the woman said she fled.
Later, the woman said she was able to identify the woman who attacked her as Cheyenne James but not the two men who were with her.
Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at 330-996-3705, firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter: @swarsmithabj.