As trial collapses, details of Singleton's murder revealed

mmcnab@beaufortgazette.comApril 26, 2014 

A long-standing feud, possibly over drugs. A struggle punctuated by gunshots. A dead little boy.

The sequence of events was to be shared last week during the trial of three men -- Tyrone Robinson, Aaron Young Sr., and his son, Aaron Young Jr. -- charged in the murder of 8-year-old Khalil Singleton. Instead, the trial halted abruptly Wednesday morning.

Documents obtained from the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office show how a simmering feud between Robinson and the Youngs escalated, ending with Khalil's death. The following summary is based on those documents, which include statements by investigators who interviewed the accused men and several witnesses.

THE FIGHT

Robinson and a friend drove to Aaron Young Sr.'s mobile home on Wild Horse Road on Sept. 1, 2012. Robinson later told investigators he went to the Youngs' home to buy drugs, but that Young Jr. wouldn't sell any because of their "beef."

A teenager related to the Youngs, interviewed later, said he was riding his bicycle to visit them around 4:30 p.m. He stopped near their home and saw a dark green Acura sedan driven by Robinson pull up. The Youngs were outside their mobile home.

Robinson called Young Jr. over to the car and asked if he "had a problem." Young Jr. answered no. The teenager on the bicycle recalled seeing a .38 revolver in Robinson's hand.

Young Jr. and Robinson began arguing more heatedly. When Robinson pointed his .38 at Young Jr., Young Sr. slapped the gun away. It went off but no one was hurt.

Young Sr. and Robinson wrestled and fell to the ground. Robinson's revolver fired twice more, harmlessly. Young Sr. broke free and ran into his house with his son to grab a gun. When they came back out, Robinson and his friend were gone. The father and son hopped into a gray Ford F-150 and headed to Robinson's home on Allen Road, off Marshland Road.

THE FEUD

The "beef" was a yearlong feud between Aaron Young Jr. and Robinson. Young Jr. initially didn't tell investigators much about it, calling it "just a thing," but ultimately he said Robinson had once tried to kill him.

THE PHONE CALL

Back in his neighborhood on Allen Road, Robinson asked a neighbor, Charlese Jackson, if he could use her phone. Robinson had a beer in his hand. During the phone conversation, Jackson heard Robinson say, "these (expletive) don't know who they are dealing with."

Next, Jackson's boyfriend arrived at her home. The boyfriend, Tyrone Delaney, had just been on Marshland Road. He told Robinson a gray pickup had sped past him. Robinson said "he and that (expletive) had a shootout" and told the couple: "Y'all didn't see me."

Robinson pulled out his .38. Jackson, alarmed, told him to get out of her home. She watched him walk out into the neighborhood.

ALLEN ROAD

Young Sr. said that when he and his son arrived at Allen Road, Robinson was standing in the road firing his revolver. Young Jr. said he fired back at Robinson with a 9 mm pistol before the father and son drove back to their home.

"I should have let it go," Young Sr. said later.

Robinson told investigators Young Jr. began firing at him from the truck. Robinson said he hid behind a mobile home, and denied ever having a gun or returning fire.

Young Jr. said he and his father went to Allen Road to shoot holes in Robinson's car.

"Dude shot at my daddy. He's crazy, (expletive), and I swiss-cheesed his car," Young Jr. said. The car was hit nine times.

As the Youngs left the neighborhood, Young Jr. said he heard two gunshots from an area where a group children were playing outside on a trampoline. He said he was positive he did not shoot toward them.

"TYRONE DID IT"

Hearing gunshots, resident Charlese Jackson yelled for the children to come in.

The group included cousins Khalil Singleton and Jontu Singleton Jr. (Coincidentally, the latter child's father was a friend of Robinson -- the same friend who went with Robinson to the Youngs' home; the same friend who was Robinson's accomplice in a pawn shop burglary a two weeks earlier, on Aug. 19.)

Tyrone Delaney, Jackson's boyfriend, also ordered the children inside. Two children came in, but two others stayed outside, putting their shoes on. One of the two was Khalil.

A man on vacation at the nearby Owner's Club of Hilton Head Island later told deputies he heard six gunshots, followed by three more, then screaming.

A bullet had hit Khalil Singleton in the left torso.

Paramedics arrived at 4:51 p.m. to find Khalil's second cousin, Britney Brinson, performing CPR. Brinson, a nurse at Beaufort Memorial Hospital, accompanied paramedics to Hilton Head Hospital, where Khalil died at 5:22 p.m.

Brinson said she spotted Robinson between a trailer and a utility house immediately after hearing 10 to 12 gunshots. As she ran outside to help Singleton, a child who'd been on the trampoline pointed to Robinson and said, "He did it."

Singleton's aunt, Margarite Washington, who also lives Allen Road, said the rapid gunfire seemed "like I was someone in the Army."

A boy who'd been playing with Singleton on the trampoline said he saw "Big T" -- Tyrone Robinson -- with a gun and no shirt during the shooting. "I thought he was shooting at (name redacted) and then (name redacted) fell down," the boy said.

Brinson, the nurse who tried to resuscitate Khalil, said Robinson walked past them and ducked behind a trailer. He was unarmed, but carried two 40-ounce beers. Then he drove away in his Acura, Brinson said.

As deputies and emergency responders arrived, several people began screaming: "Tyrone did it, Tyrone did it."

ON BRYANT ROAD

Robinson headed to Bryant Road, off Spanish Wells Road, to see Bennie Hamilton, a friend who lived in a mobile home there. Robinson seemed nervous, Hamilton said. Robinson told Hamilton two men who had shot at him killed a "little kid," and insisted that he didn't shoot Khalil.

Robinson asked Hamilton to take him to the Sheriff's Office but Hamilton refused because he didn't want to be involved. Robinson then telephoned the Sheriff's Office and identified himself as "T". He was told to go back to the crime scene on Allen Road.

Robinson showed Hamilton bullet holes in his Acura sedan and said the Youngs used an AR-15 assault rifle.

Hamilton later told investigators Robinson had a history of violent behavior. A few weeks earlier, Robinson pulled a .38 caliber revolver and fired it past Hamilton's head, he said. Robinson "gets crazy when he drinks too much," Hamilton said.

Hamilton also said Robinson had asked for bleach to wash his hands. None was available, so Robinson used vinegar. He was trying to wash traces of gunpowder off his hands, Hamilton said. Investigators later seized the gallon jug of vinegar.

"COKE DEAL GONE BAD"

Robinson eventually returned to the crime scene. Deputies found him on his back porch, still shirtless. He told deputies the whole incident was drug-related.

In his version of the story, Robinson said a shootout with the Youngs happened on Squire Pope Road, the result of a "coke deal gone bad." After the shootout, he said he returned to Allen Road. But Aaron Young Jr. showed up, firing an AK-47 at him, Robinson said, so he ran behind a mobile home.

Deputies transported Robinson out of the neighborhood after a group gathered and accused him of shooting Khalil.

THE ARRESTS

At 4:58 p.m. -- moments after the shooting on Allen Road, a deputy stopped the Young's 1995 Ford F-150 pickup at the intersection of William Hilton Parkway and Gumtree Road. Young Sr. told the deputy he was about to call the Sheriff's Office because someone had shot at him and his son at their home on Wild Horse Road.

Young Sr., Young Jr., and a 27-year-old woman who was Young Sr.'s girlfriend, were taken in separate cars to the Sheriff's Office substation on Shelter Cove Lane.

Robinson also was taken to the Sheriff's Office. There, the three men and Young Sr.'s girlfriend were questioned. Afterward, he girlfriend was released and the three men were taken to the Beaufort County Detention Center.

THE SHED

Young Sr. told investigators his son owned a 9 mm pistol. A report filed by Capt. Bob Bromage of the Sheriff's Office said "it was unlikely that (the gun) fired the fatal projectile." Bromage told Young Sr. it was important to retrieve the pistol, the report said.

Young Sr. eventually took investigators to his father's house on Red Tip Way, where he was allowed to speak to his father, Benny Young.

"He told me, 'Dad, we didn't do anything; we had nothing to do with Khalil,'" Benny Young testified in court on Monday.

Apparently reassured, Benny Young told his son to cooperate with authorities.

Around 1 a.m. the next morning, Young Sr. showed where the 9 mm pistol was -- in a shed behind the Benny Young's home. Investigators found a black bag containing a Masterpiece Arms 9 mm pistol, 29 9 mm cartridges, a 30-round magazine loaded with eight cartridges, a cylinder-shaped object thought to be a flash suppresser, a lubricant, and a MAC-10 machine pistol.

THE AFTERMATH

The Sheriff's Office interviewed many people over the next month. In an interview with Sgt. Laurel Albertin, Young Jr. acknowledged that "if I hadn't gone down there, the little boy wouldn't have gotten hit, period."

K-9 units searched along Allen, Marshland and Muddy Creek roads for the Robinson's revolver, to no avail.

Five days after Khalil died, at a community vigil held to honor and to protest violence, Sheriff P.J. Tanner announced charges against Robinson and the Youngs. The crowd of about 150 people cheered loudly. Robinson and Young Jr. were charged with murder; Young Sr. and Young Jr. with conspiracy to murder Robinson.

Two days later, Khalil was buried after a funeral at Mount Carmel Baptist Center in Ridgeland. Mourners filled the pews, and others crowded the back of the church and a kitchen area.

On Oct. 18, 2012, the three men were indicted by a grand jury on murder charges. In February 2013, charges against the Youngs of criminal conspiracy and discharging a firearm into a vehicle were dismissed.

TRIAL FIZZLES

After a year and a half of investigation and detailed legal preparation, the trial was poised to start Tuesday.

Then, a snag: Young Sr.'s attorney asked that an interview Young Sr. had with investigators be excluded from the trial. Young Sr. took the stand and testified that he helped the Sheriff's Office recover his son's 9 mm handgun because he was coerced.

Young Sr. also said an investigator told him that he and his son would be "exonerated and made star witnesses" against Robinson if he helped them find the pistol. Otherwise he'd face lengthy jail time.

A forensic psychiatrist testified that, indeed, it appeared Young Sr. was coerced.

At that point, the trial unraveled in quick step. When previously undisclosed audio and video recordings suddenly surfaced on Tuesday, Judge Thomas Cooper halted the trial. Little information about the recordings has been released, but they apparently contain audio from the roadside stop of Young Sr.'s truck and video from his interview with investigators.

Judge Cooper also has ruled that each defendant will be tried separately. Their cases had been consolidated.

Perhaps the biggest question is why the recordings -- which apparently are significant enough to have scuttled the trial -- didn't surface earlier.

The Sheriff's Office and Solicitor's Office have declined comment.

Follow reporter Matt McNab at twitter.com/IPBG_Matt.

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