A self-professed drug dealer and serial criminal from North Charleston gave police detectives what they needed to make arrests in 17-year-old Marley Lion’s killing.
Bobby Eugene Warthaw Jr., 25, got $13,200 for a tip leading the Charleston Police Department to four suspects and for setting up the purchase of the murder weapon on West Ashley’s streets.
The revelation elicited gasps among some who watched Wednesday as Warthaw testified in the murder trial of Ryan P. Deleston, 32, in a downtown Charleston courtroom.
But Circuit Public Defender Ashley Pennington stressed that Warthaw and other witnesses had checkered pasts and that their personal “beefs” were reasons for pointing the finger at Deleston. During the first two days of testimony by prosecutors’ witnesses, Pennington has presented the theory that one of the suspected accomplices in Lion’s death, 29-year-old Bryan Latrell Rivers, was the actual shooter.
Rivers and Julius Perrell Brown, 33, each have pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter in an effort to avoid lengthier prison time. Both men have been implicated in past violent episodes. Rivers has been convicted of assault with intent to kill, and Brown had been accused of a 2000 homicide until the primary witness against him was slain.
Warthaw testified that Rivers had been seen on the day of Lion’s death wearing white Nike Air Force 1 shoes similar to what other witnesses said were on Deleston’s feet as he shot Lion. The sighting came at a shoot for a music video, where Rivers was seen waving a gun in the air, Warthaw acknowledged to Pennington.
George Ellis Brown, 28, who is charged with being an accessory before and after Lion’s murder, also testified Wednesday that Rivers had once intervened in a fight between Deleston and his girlfriend.
That created bad blood between Deleston and Rivers.
The testimony evoked emotions among Lion’s loved ones, who saw photographs of the bloodied pillow that Lion was resting on as someone fired a half-dozen bullets into his SUV.
But Rivers had a chance to explain his role in the events leading to the hail of gunfire. On Wednesday, he filled in some blanks to a narrative that was laid out on the first day of testimony.
He was part of the crew who went to downtown Charleston on June 15, 2012, and rode around in George Brown’s GMC Suburban while looking for drunken people to rob. The group also included Julius Brown, Deleston and Julius Brown’s brother.
Rivers used George Brown’s pistol to rob a young couple, but he scored just a “dollar or two” in cash. They weren’t satisfied.
While they considered robbing Famous Joe’s Bar and Grill, the crew members returned to the Cashew Street house where Deleston and his girlfriend lived. They smoked more marijuana and drank more alcohol.
It’s where Rivers had been staying since two weeks before the Lion killing, when he got out of prison on a drug-dealing conviction.
He, Rivers and Julius Brown soon set out again on foot. Deleston was wearing white Nike shoes that Rivers called “Willie D’s.” He tucked a pistol into his waistband, Rivers said.
Rivers blamed Deleston for passing up the “big fish,” or the workers who left Famous Joe’s with cash as Lion fetched a pillow and set up a spot to sleep in the back seat of his SUV.
“(Deleston) let that go,” Rivers said.
Rivers said he disagreed with Deleston’s Plan B — to rob Lion instead of the bar employees.
“I lost the spirit of even being in that situation,” Rivers said. “My intention wasn’t on robbing Marley Lion.”
So Deleston did the job, Rivers said. He walked up to Lion’s SUV, then ran back to the fence because Rivers said he thought Lion had set off the car’s alarm.
“Get him. Get him. Get him,” Julius Brown told Deleston, according to Rivers’ testimony.
To Rivers, that meant for Deleston to continue with the robbery, “not shoot the man,” he said.
But Deleston instead fired a half-dozen times into the SUV as Lion “yelled and screamed” in pain, Rivers said.
“I looked at him,” Rivers said of Deleston. “I said, ‘Why the (expletive) did you do that?’”
Others in the crew testified that Deleston returned to the Cashew Street house and expressed regret for the shooting and worry that he’d be sent to jail.
Rayshawn “Duke” Milligan, Julius Brown’s brother who was at the house, and George Brown both testified that Deleston wrapped the gun in a sock or a towel and stashed it in a storage area.
The gun belonged to George Brown, but now that it had the stench of murder, he wanted to get rid of it.
He offered it for sale on the streets. He thought he had found a buyer, but the potential customer learned that the weapon was from Ardmore, the community where Lion was slain.
The man knew it was “hot,” George Brown said.
Warthaw, who had been arrested for cocaine and robbery in Ardmore, learned about the pistol for sale. But, as he acknowledged to Pennington, he also had a beef with George Brown.
He contacted the police.
But before he could arrange a sale, Warthaw was jailed for missing a court date. He had been arrested twice during the month of Lion’s death on charges of selling a pistol and having cocaine.
A police detective said he would have to pull some strings to get a judge to drop the arrest warrant, Warthaw testified. But it happened, and Warthaw was released.
Working with the police in July 2012, Warthaw said he and a friend arranged the gun buy with Deleston. Deleston had been asking for $80 — a price Warthaw said was unusually cheap for the streets.
But when the duo met with him outside a Piggly Wiggly, they gave Deleston $200 in cash provided by the police, Warthaw said.
The car and the informants were rigged with two cameras, video from which was played in the courtroom. The transaction was brief.
Warthaw said the gun was meant for his friend, but for an offer of $120 above Deleston’s asking price to be believable, he said he demanded a $50 kickback from Deleston. Warthaw eventually gave that money back to the police.
He got $13,000 from Crime Stoppers for anonymously tipping off the authorities about the men implicated in Lion’s slaying.
He got $200 from the police for getting them the murder weapon.
Reach Andrew Knapp at 937-5414 or twitter.com/offlede.