St. George — It was random that Maraleius Birdsong would be the pizza delivery driver who unknowingly walked into his own death almost a year ago. He was working that night for Domino’s Pizza’s Coosaw Creek store.
Birdsong had no idea he was being stalked like prey. He didn’t know that the two teenagers dressed in black had ordered food they had no intention of paying for, according to testimony.
Birdsong was 20 years old when he was robbed and killed March 9. This week, the teens accused of his murder faced a jury. Before the trial could begin, one turned on the other and pleaded guilty to a lesser charge.
In exchange for a lighter sentence, the defendant would testify against his once friend and co-defendant, accused of being the triggerman in Birdsong’s killing.
On Tuesday morning, while the jury waited in a back room to be escorted into the courtroom for opening statements, Jontae Davis, 18, pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and armed robbery and accepted a deal that will put him in prison for 20 years. He then testified against his co-defendant, Stephawn Brown, 19, who is now being tried alone in the case. Brown is charged with murder and armed robbery and faces a possible life sentence, if convicted.
“I decided I just needed to own up for what we’ve done,” said Davis when he testified against Brown Tuesday afternoon. “I felt like the family needed to hear the truth.”
Birdsong’s mother, Teresa Gardner, was sitting in the front row of the Dorchester County Circuit courtroom.
She wiped away tears as Davis described the final moments of her son’s life.
“He was very afraid. He did everything he was told,” Davis said. “When he didn’t give up his phone, Stephawn got mad. He (Birdsong) started to run, and as he was running, Stephawn shot him.”
Davis told the jury that Birdsong told Brown he didn’t have his cellphone on him after Brown demanded it. Davis said the deliveryman turned around to run away and Brown shot him. Later, Davis would learn Birdsong was shot in the back of the head, he said.
“I asked him why he did it. He said because the guy wouldn’t give him the cellphone,” Davis said. “He said he shouldn’t play with him like that.”
Birdsong, who was paying his way through school at Trident Technical College, was delivering an order of wings and cinnamon sticks to the Appian Way apartments in North Charleston. He knocked on the door of the apartment listed on the order, but they told him they hadn’t ordered any food, according to testimony. Birdsong tried another apartment but couldn’t find the person who had called in the order that night around 7:40 p.m. So he started to walk back to his car, while Brown and Davis, waited and watched, according to Davis’ testimony.
Davis told the jury he and Brown had begun making plans to rob someone after school that day. The pair attended Fort Dorchester High School and lived next door to each other, according to Davis.
Later that afternoon, Brown came up with the idea to rob a pizza deliveryman, Davis testified. He watched Brown make the call to the Domino’s Pizza.
While Mark Leiendecker, a public defender for Brown, questioned Davis on the stand, he pointed out that his testimony is the fourth version of the story he’d given. Davis had told the jury he’d lied to police in earlier statements, minimizing his involvement.“You lied in order to save your butt,” Leiendecker said.
During his testimony, Davis admitted he helped plan the armed robbery and was present for the shooting, which contradicts some earlier statements he had made to police.
Testimony in the trial is expected to continue this morning.
Reach Natalie Caula at 937-5594.
Defense attorney Ash Chisholm speaks Tuesday in court to his client Stephawn Brown, 19, who is accused of robbing and killing a pizza deliveryman.×
Defense attorney Ash Chisholm speaks to his client Stephawn Brown, 19, of Charleston who is charged with robbing and murdering a pizza delivery man in North Charleston during his trial in St. George Tuesday February 12, 2013. (Grace Beahm/postandcourier.com)×
A family photo of shooting victim Maraleius Birdsong.×