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A friend of the 24-year-old man charged with fatally shooting a 3-year-old Detroit boy last month on the Southfield Freeway testified Wednesday that she was riding with him during the incident, heard a loud bang and then saw him holding a gun.

Jena Ewais gave a reluctant account of the events that happened the evening of Jan. 24 during a preliminary hearing for Derrick Durham, who is charged with open murder and other counts in the shooting of Christian Miller.

The boy was shot around 6:40 p.m. as he rode with his godmother, 38-year-old Charmaine Strickland, and another 3-year-old child on the way to see "Sesame Street Live" at the Fox Theatre in Detroit.

"He told me to lean back (in the passenger seat)," Ewais testified before Judge Ronald Giles in 36th District Court. "I thought the (two drivers) were just going to argue ... flip each other off."

Ewais said she did as Durham told her and heard a loud noise, then saw Durham holding a metallic gray handgun.

She said Strickland had cut them off and honked at them as they were trying to get onto the northbound Southfield Freeway from Warren Avenue on Detroit's west side.

Ewais said Durham told her the driver "did too much."

She said she saw Strickland pull to the side of the road as Durham sped away. She called the shooting a case of "road rage."

During emotional testimony, Strickland denied she honked her horn.

"I never rolled down my window," she said, adding that she saw the driver of the Mercedes raise his hand and point at her.

Strickland testified that she had cut in front of the Mercedes so she could get on the freeway and then noticed that the car had gotten close to her on the freeway.

She said the Mercedes driven by Durham was a car length ahead of her but slowed  down, and she saw a passenger get down.

Strickland said she said was on the phone first with Christian's mom and then her fiance when she heard her car window shatter. She said she checked on the kids in the back.

"When I called Christian, he didn't say anything," Strickland said, crying. "I called 911 right away. (Christian) wasn't moving."

Strickland said she didn't see any blood in the back seat but did see a bullet hole in the side of the boy's child seat and a bullet hole in the rear passenger side of the Dodge Journey. The boy died a day later in the hospital.

The child, who was seated directly behind Strickland, was shot in the right side of the back.

Ewais, who was given immunity from prosecution in exchange for her testimony, said  that two days after the shooting, she and Durham went to a detailing shop on Tireman in Detroit to clean the car and vacuum up any bullet casings that might have been left behind from the freeway shooting.

A couple of days later, Ewais testified, she and Durham took the Mercedes to a house in Detroit in hopes of altering its color or appearance in some other way. She said they hid the car in the garage of the home.

Ewais testified that silver Mercedes belongs to her but is registered under her sister's name.

During cross-examination, Durham's defense attorney, Wyatt Harris asked Ewais why she didn't mention Durham's alleged comments about Strickland doing "too much" to police or prosecutors during statements she made under oath. Ewais said she did but the investigators didn't write them down.

Testimony continues Friday.

bwilliams@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2027

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