Dice game losses led to French artist’s 2013 slaying, prosecutor says
A French street artist lost his life when a group of young men went looking for someone to rob after they lost their money in a dice game, prosecutors contended in court Tuesday.
Assistant Wayne County Prosecutor Brian Morrow said Bilal Berreni was killed in July 2013 after he was targeted by the four looking to “hit a lick,” slang for robbing someone, and “murk” (murder) someone after the game with about 11 other people.
The possible motive for the killing came out on the first day of the trial of the youngest of the four defendants in the case. Berreni, 23, of Paris was found murdered on a sidewalk of the now demolished Brewster Douglass housing projects. He was found hours after he was beaten and shot in the face in the area of St. Antoine and Alfred behind one of the abandoned apartment towers.
Berreni, who had no identification on him at the time he was discovered by a construction crew, was not identified until March 2014. The identification was made through fingerprints.
The 14-year-old suspect knew the group was looking for someone rob as well as murder, Morrow claimed during opening statements in Wayne Juvenile Court.
“He was aware they were going to kill Mr. Berreni,” Morrow said. “He was also aware they were going to split the proceeds.”
Berreni was seen in an area of basketball courts of the housing projects when his killers saw him and decided to rob him. They took his money, which he had hidden inside his shoes, his wallet and Bridge card.
Morrow said the money, which netted each suspect about $50, was used to buy “a bag of weed and a bag of (potato) chips.”
Three adult defendants were convicted of Berreni’s murder: Drequone Rich and Dionte Travis, both 21, and Jasin Curtis, 19.
Rich, who was arrested in August, testified via video Tuesday from the Saginaw Correctional Facility where he is serving 23-40 years for the Berreni murder, on behalf of the youngest defendant, whose name is not being released because of his age, saying the teen was not there when Berreni was killed.
When asked by Morrow what happened to Berreni, Rich said: “He got robbed and he got shot. That’s what happened.”
Rich denied he had “anything to gain” from testifying for the defense.
Under cross-examination, Rich denied knowing the suspect by a nickname he used earlier in statements he made identifying the youngest suspect in the attack.
The juvenile defendant has allegedly confessed to the crime during videotaped questioning by Detroit police. Excerpts from the video are expected to be shown in court Wednesday.
Attorney Jeffrey Schwartz, who is representing the juvenile defendant, said his client initially denied he was involved in the Berreni slaying but confessed only after “ hours of interrogation” by the police.
“He was promised he was going to go home after he agreed with the statement (that he was involved),” Schwartz said during his opening statements. “He was not there. The statement he made was to appease the officers because he believed he was going to go home.”
The young defendant has been in the Wayne County Juvenile Delinquency Facility since he was arrested on the murder. He is expected to take the stand in his own defense.
An assistant Wayne County medical examiner, Dr. Lokman Sung, testified Berreni died of a gunshot wound to the head and numerous injuries to his body. He could not say for certain if the injuries were caused by a fall from a building or if he could have been hit by an automobile.
Sung said Berreni would not have died instantly from being shot in the face at close range.
He said Berreni also had numerous abrasions and lacerations all over his body including his legs, shoulder, spine and ribs.