Dionta RaShad Cochran was killed by his own gun after it accidentally discharged in the 19-year-old's pocket, authorities said Friday. The bullet struck him in the chest while he was getting into an SUV to buy cigarettes.
Tests confirmed that the fatal round was fired from the .32-caliber pistol Cochran kept in the back pocket of his low-hanging pants, and not from an unknown shooter, as originally thought, Charleston County Coroner Rae Wooten said.
"It's clear examining the clothing and trajectories and soot and bullets and guns, etc., that the gun in his back pocket actually discharged, passed through his clothing — missing both legs — and as he was bending forward in an effort to probably close the door, the bullet struck him in the chest," she said.
It's unclear what caused the gun to discharge, but it appears the round traveled through his pants and between his legs, Wooten said.
"I would say to you it's extremely rare, and in the 14-plus years I've been doing investigations countywide, I've never seen anything like this," Wooten said.
The conclusion was an unexpected twist in a case originally labeled a homicide by North Charleston police and investigated as one until Friday. Chief Jon Zumalt said when he arrived at the scene at 7680 Desmond Ave. in the Forest Hills II community, he thought it was a slaying.
"We jumped to conclusions," he said.
Investigators arrested Cochran's cousin and a friend a day later after they determined that the pair tried to hide Cochran's gun and another gun in the backyard before police arrived.
Police charged Eric Ra'shad Antonio Smith, who was staying at the house with his grandmother, with obstruction of justice after he allegedly instructed Justin Maurice Townsend to hide the guns. Smith's mother said at a bond hearing that police told her that her son, who has a conviction for third-degree burglary, was the intended target of the shooting.
Police also charged Townsend, Cochran's cousin, with possession of a stolen pistol with a removed or obliterated serial number, unlawful carrying of a pistol and possession of a pistol.
The charges against Townsend and Smith are still pending.
Zumalt and Wooten said the case was solved through constant communication between their two offices.
"Their collaborative efforts helped to start piecing this together," Wooten said. "I'm very pleased the family got a truthful answer."
Mayor Keith Summey joined Zumalt and Wooten in crediting Cochran's mother, Sonya Holmes, with cooperating with investigators and quelling any thoughts of seeking revenge against whoever might have shot her son.
"The loss of any member of your family is horrible, and to think that they died at the hands of someone else is even worse," Mayor Keith Summey said. "I'm relieved for her that it was an accident and that nobody had something against her son and was trying to take his life."
Holmes declined to speak, but Lollita Brown, Holmes' pastor at The Power of The Word Worship Center, said Cochran was a good person who had plans to join the military after overcoming problems in his life.
"He was a very outgoing young man; he was very sweet," Brown said. "He was a part of our youth ministry. Always wanted to do the right thing. Yes, he had some trouble in the past, but when he came out, he had his head on right."
Cochran spent 10 months in prison after a conviction for strong-arm robbery. He was released in April.
On June 5, he was arrested and accused of shooting a firearm in West Ashley.
Police heard gunfire about 1:30 p.m. in the area of Rochelle and Belgrade avenues and received a report of someone firing a gun into the air on Rochelle Avenue and then leaving in a white SUV.
A police report said that officers stopped a Ford Explorer and inside found Cochran and his cousin, Townsend. It said a witness identified Cochran as the person who fired the gun.
Cochran was charged with discharging a firearm, the report said.
Nadine Parks contributed to this story. Reach Andy Paras at 937-5589 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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