Trial opens in crossfire killing of grandmother in Minneapolis

Joshua Chiazor Ezeka was charged in the shooting death of Birdell Beeks.
Joshua Chiazor Ezeka was charged in the shooting death of Birdell Beeks.
Hennepin County Jail

Witnesses began testifying Tuesday in the jury trial of 21-year-old Joshua Ezeka, who's been charged in the shooting death of 58-year-old Birdell Beeks in north Minneapolis in May 2016.

Prosecutors allege that Ezeka was shooting at a gang rival when one of the bullets hit Beeks, who was driving her granddaughter to get a job application. Ezeka faces five felonies tied to the incident, including first- and second-degree murder and assault with a dangerous weapon.

In opening statements, prosecutor Chris Freeman said Freddy Scott, who has pleaded guilty to aiding the shooter in exchange for a lesser sentence, had tipped off Ezeka that a rival was on Penn Avenue in a 140 second phone call before the shooting.

Prosecutors say Ezeka armed himself with a semi-automatic handgun with an extended clip and took position in a vacant lot off Penn Avenue.

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Freeman alleges that Ezeka fired at a gold-colored vehicle, which contained a rival as well as the man's girlfriend and her 4-year-old child. Beeks was hit by one bullet, which traveled through her arm and into her chest, killing her, according to the medical examiner's office.

Freeman said Beeks told her granddaughter in the passenger seat, "Baby, they got me."

"She was torn away from her loved ones, from her family by a bullet," Freeman said. "One of the nine that the defendant fired that day."

Defense attorney Erik Beitzel told the court during opening statements that Ezeka had been tipped off that someone was planning to shoot up his nearby home, and that he'd run out to "scare them off" and hadn't intended to kill anyone. Beitzel said the question for the jury was, "What was Joshua Ezeka's intent when he pulled the trigger?"

Birdell Beeks' daughter and granddaughter also testified. Daughter Sa'Lesha Beeks, breaking down at times, described her mother as a "pillar of our family."

Granddaughter Ne'Asha Griffin, who is 17, told the court that her grandmother was her "cheerleader" and the backbone of her support system. Griffin said she keeps her acceptance letter to a Florida college perched next to the urn that contains her grandmother's ashes.

The trial is scheduled to continue throughout Tuesday afternoon and resume on Thursday.