CATLETTSBURG While the events leading up to the shooting of a 20-year-old are in dispute, there's no doubt the victim — to whom The Daily Independent will refer by initials (EK) only — had a long road to recovery.
On Tuesday, EK told the jury ever since June 20, 2020, when a bullet zipped through her car door and blasted out her jaw, she has severe pain — mental, emotional and physical. Taking the stand in the trial of her alleged shooter, 20-year-old Dwayne “DJ” Kemper, EK was visibly upset as she testified.
“I didn't deserve this,” she said.
The shooting went down around midnight on June 20 in front of an apartment in the 188 block of Blazer Boulevard in Ashland, following some type of a fight between her then-boyfriend, 20-year-old Zachary McWhorter, his best friend 20-year-old Brandon Hansford and Kemper. Ashland Police deduced that a single bullet entered the passenger side car door of EK’s Honda sedan, striking her in the arm, the collar bone and the jaw.
Kemper now faces a first-degree assault charge, which could mean 10 to 20 years in prison if convicted.
McWhorter and Hansford rushed EK to King's Daughters Medical Center, leaving the car near the Cardiovascular Center running and carrying her across the hospital to seek help, according to testimony in the case.
EK claimed KDMC did not properly put in the chest tube. She testified she was then taken to Cabell-Huntington for further treatment. Dr. Peter Ray, who specializes in facial reconstruction and has treated people wounded in war during his time in the Marine Reserves, said he had to use specialized bars in order to reconstruct her jaw.
“In my time practicing in Huntington, I only had to use those twice. We had to send out for them,” Ray testified. “That type of wound is difficult to treat because the bones are fragmented and you have to align them to heal up correctly.”
EK said she can't feel her chin, her bottom lip or her cheek since the shooting. She said she has trouble drinking and eating, and has nightmares every night.
“I'm always concerned when I go out to Kroger or the gym or wherever about being shot,” she said. “This will stay with me for the rest of my life.”
According to police testimony in the case, Kemper fled the scene and went into hiding until he was picked up about a month and a half later in Clermont County, Ohio. When Ashland Police finally interviewed him, he said he had been stabbed in the head with a pair of brass knuckles with a blade affixed to it.
He then showed officers his scar, according to police testimony. Throughout testimony from police and detectives, defense attorney Sebastian Joy kept hammering on the lack of a crime scene reconstruction. Detective Sgt. Adam Daniels testified he has training in it, but his subordinates do not — however, it doesn't matter, since a key piece of evidence was moved, he said.
“With the car gone, you can't accurately measure the scene and recreate what happened,” he said. “You can figure out the angle of the bullet hole in the car, but you can't tell much more.”
While a clip was found on the scene, the gun has never been recovered. However, Det. Eric Holman testified that a single shell casing found in front of the apartment matched shell casings found at a home at which Kemper target-practiced in Westwood.
What happened in the lead-up to the shooting is up for debate — Joy pointed out that witness statements made by Hansford, EK and McWhorter all don't match what was heard in court Tuesday. Assistant Boyd County Commonwealth's Attorney Christina Smith and Gary Conn preempted the discrepancy as well during their direct examinations, revealing EK’s early statements were made while she was “drugged up” at the hospital and the other witnesses didn't offer all the details in their brief statements to police due to stress from the situation.
EK testified she was unsure why they went to the apartments in the first place, but she agreed when asked by Hansford. Both Hansford and McWhorter testified they went to buy “dab carts” —marijuana e-cigarette cartridges — from a gentleman. By all accounts, McWhorter drove, Hansford was in the back and EK rode in the passenger seat.
Upon arriving, Hansford said he and McWhorter did the deal, then stood along the street by the car. He saw Kemper come around the corner from Woodlawn Avenue, go up to an apartment and walk back down. When he came out, he called a McWhorter a “snitch,” according to Hansford.
Noticing Kemper had something in his waistband, Hansford said he stayed back. McWhorter and Kemper met one another in the lawn of the apartment and exchanged words nose-to-nose, Hansford said.
“I don't know who made the first move, but Zach dropped to his knees and tried to get at the gun in his waist,” Hansford testified. “That's when I jumped in and hit DJ in the head four or five times.”
A wrestling contest ensued and Kemper retained control of his pistol, according to Hansford. Hansford said he ran back to the car, rolled over the hood and hid behind the trunk to figure out a way to “ambush” Kemper. But, upon seeing the distance between himself and Kemper, Hansford said he realized it was a tactical error.
So he walked slowly towards Kemper — at that time McWhorter put his hands up and the two backed away, Hansford said. They got in the car and that's when the gun shot went off.
In McWhorter's version of events, he initially got out to chat with the dealer at the curb, during which time he saw Kemper walk by to the apartment. He got back in the car while Hansford concluded his business. That's when Kemper came back down the stairs. Hansford and Kemper approached one another and started talking, McWhorter said.
At first, McWhorter testified he thought it was friendly until Kemper flashed his gun. That's when he got out of the car and approached the men — Kemper allegedly called McWhorter a “rat,” to which McWhorter replied, “how about you put that gun away and we can fight about it.” It was when Kemper tried to pistol whip McWhorter that Hansford stepped in and hit the suspect in the head, McWhorter stated.
Again, the wrestling match broke out and Kemper got the upper hand. McWhorter stated Hansford ducked behind the car, then the two surrendered and walked back to their vehicle. While backing up, McWhorter said he heard the gunshot go off, finding out moments later EK had been struck.
EK, for her part, stated she doesn't remember much. She said she saw Hansford and Kemper meet in the yard, a fight broke out and she told McWhorter to go help his friend. She then testified when she saw the gun, she ducked into the floor board and got into the fetal position.
Attorneys told Judge John Vincent they should have one more day of testimony and expect the jury to begin deliberating today.