Seven-year-old Ralph Brooks Jr. wiped tears from his eyes and told jurors how he fell paralyzed on his grandmother's doorstep while trying to flee gunfire in a drug war last summer.
"I was running to my grandmom's house . . . I got to my front door and I fell down on my stomach and I couldn't feel anything," the boy said in response to gentle questioning by Assistant District Attorney Rayford Means.The child was unable to identify the defendant, Lonnie Summers, 21, as the gunman in the July 12 shooting, which has become a rallying point for residents fighting to reclaim their neighborhoods from drug dealers.
After testifying Monday, the child told Common Pleas Judge Marvin Halbert he felt "fine" after months of rehabilitation. The judge then shook his hand and wished him a Merry Christmas, earning a smile and a "thanks" from Ralph.
Summers' lawyer acknowledged the testimony would hurt his case, even if the boy didn't know who shot him.
"It's just the emotion that's involved, the sympathy that's generated. The jurors are human beings," attorney Nino Tinari said.
Summers, charged with aggravated assault and weapons violations, has been held in jail in lieu of $1 million bail. If convicted, he faces a maximum 30-year sentence.
The little boy, a second-grade public school student, has become a symbol in the city's war against drug trafficking. More than $43,000 already has been contributed for his future education.
Ralph, who is paralyzed below the waist, came into the courtroom in a wheelchair. He stared at the jury and then at the defendant, and tears began to flow as the judge and opposing lawyers discussed privately whether his testimony would be relevant and competent.
The judge left the bench and sat beside the child, holding a microphone, while the youngster answered preliminary questions.
"Do you know the difference between right and wrong?" asked Means.
"Yes," the boy replied.
"What happens when you tell a lie?"
"You get punished," he said.
The judge then cut in, saying, "I am perfectly satisfied with the competence of this witness."
Ralph then told how he was playing with his 9-year-old sister Nashira and several children a few houses from his grandmother's home when the shooting began.
Nashira Brooks, a fourth-grader, testified that she tried to grab Ralph and pull him into a neighbor's house but he broke loose.
"I heard the shots, pow, pow, pow . . . they sounded like firecrackers, only louder," she said.
Moments later, she said, she came outside and saw him lying on his stomach and screaming.
Tinari acknowledged Summers might have been in the neighborhood when warring drug dealers exchanged gunfire, but he said Summers did not fire the shot that severed Ralph's spine and left him paralyzed.