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Prosecutors seeking death penalty in Memphis shootings

By ADRIAN SAINZ, Associated Press
Published: March 27, 2023, 11:14am

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Prosecutors said Monday that they will pursue the death penalty if a Tennessee man is convicted of first-degree murder in a daylong shooting rampage that paralyzed Memphis and left three people dead and three others wounded.

The announcement by Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy came during a press conference in the case of Ezekiel Kelly, who has been charged in a series of shootings in September that led to a citywide shelter-in-place order and a frantic manhunt.

Kelly, 20, was charged with murder in the deaths of Dewayne Tunstall, Richard Clark and Allison Parker. He has pleaded not guilty.

Mulroy listed factors for his decision to file a notice to seek the death penalty, including that it was a random mass shooting and that Kelly that has a prior conviction for aggravated assault.

“This is not a close case,” Mulroy said. “The defendant is alleged to have engaged in an hourslong, apparently random murder spree, killing three people and wounding three others, and terrorizing an entire city in the process.”

Mulroy, a Democrat who was elected last year and was on the job for about a week when the shootings took place, has previously stated his opposition to the death penalty “as a policy matter.”

“If I were a legislator, I would vote against it,” Mulroy said. “But as DA, I have a duty to enforce the law as it is written, whether I agree with it or not.”

At least three witnesses saw Kelly shoot Tunstall during a gathering at a Memphis home at about 1 a.m. on Sept. 7, according to a police affidavit. Clark and Parker were shot later that day, as Kelly was driving around Memphis, livestreaming some of his activities, authorities said.

Police said three other people were wounded in the shootings. An indictment also charges Kelly with attempted first-degree murder and more than 20 other alleged offenses, including reckless endangerment with a deadly weapon, commission of an act of terrorism, theft of property and evading arrest.

Kelly’s lawyer did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

The shootings led to the shutdown of Memphis’ public bus system, the lockdown of two college campuses and the cessation of a minor-league baseball game.

Kelly carjacked at least two vehicles before he was arrested when he crashed a stolen car while fleeing police, authorities said.

Police first said that four people were killed, but later revised the total to three after investigators found that one of the deaths was not related to the rampage.

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The violence unfolded just a few months after Kelly was released early from a three-year prison sentence for a pair of shootings in 2020.

In February of that year, Kelly, then 17, was charged as an adult with attempted first-degree murder and other crimes in two shootings committed a few hours apart. Both victims survived but did not cooperate with prosecutors, according to court records, and Kelly pleaded guilty to reduced charges of aggravated assault in April 2021.

Kelly was sentenced to three years in prison, but was released in March after serving just over two years behind bars, including credit he received for time he was jailed prior to his plea.

Relatives have told The Associated Press that Parker was a mother of three who worked as a medical assistant at a clinic in nearby West Memphis, Arkansas.

Clark worked as a campus safety officer at Christian Brothers University after retiring from a career as a corrections officer.