By Joe Pinchot
Herald Staff Writer
Tavares J. Norris had a big smile for those who came to support him through his trial after a jury found him not guilty Wednesday of attempted first-degree murder and aggravated assault in the shooting of Aaron Griffin Jr.
Although Southwest Mercer County Regional police testified about their investigation of the crime, Griffin’s word was the only thing tying Norris, 31, to the shooting.
It wasn’t good enough.
Griffin testified that Norris shot him, but the six-man, six-woman jury found plenty of details in his story not to believe.
Griffin was shot in the early morning hours of Oct. 8, 2011, outside Farrell Speed Check, 1301 Sharon-New Castle Road.
Although police suspected Norris was the shooter early on, and even filed charges against him, Griffin told police he did not know who shot him and the case was withdrawn.
In the meantime, Griffin’s brother, Christopher B. Cordero, was getting in and out of trouble. Most notably, he was charged with:
• The Dec. 21, 2010, shooting of Deandre Chambers in Triple D’s Diner, 605 Roemer Blvd., Farrell.
• Drug offenses stemming from a Feb. 25, 2012, discovery of marijuana and a cell phone that allegedly contained text messages of drug-related sales and a video of Cordero instructing a boy how to break up a bud of marijuana in the 300 block of Spearman Avenue, Farrell.
•The Jan. 30, 2013, assault of a woman in the 800 block of Market Avenue, Farrell.
Cordero, who was with Griffin the night he was shot, needed help and he approached his brother with a plan: You tell police who shot you in return for a reduction in charges against Cordero.
On May 8, Griffin walked into the Southwest police station in Farrell with Cordero and told his story, after police agreed to help out his brother.
It’s a story that defense attorney Stanley T. Booker was able to knock holes in.
Griffin testified Wednesday that he was in Speed Check’s convenience store to buy drinks and cigars, the smokes he intended to stuff with marijuana for smoking later.
As he was leaving the store, someone he identified as “Ike” hit him in the head with a bottle. They fought, and Cordero who had been in the car, and others with Ike, including Norris, joined the fray.
After the fight broke up, Griffin and Cordero went back to their car. Norris approached the driver’s side, where Griffin sat, pulled a gun from his waistband and fired from 10 to 15 feet away. A shot ricocheted off the side mirror, went through the window and hit Griffin in the right side of the chest, where it still is lodged.
Griffin hit the gas and Norris fired another shot, which went into the driver’s door.
Griffin drove himself to UPMC Horizon, Farrell, and was flown to Pittsburgh. He was released the next day.
Hospital personnel asked Griffin who shot him. He said he didn’t know. He had the same answer when police talked to him.
Griffin said he kept mum because he did not want to be a snitch, which would make him a target on the streets, he said.
Then his brother asked for help.
Police filed charges against Norris for the second time in May, and Griffin testified at a June preliminary hearing, implicating Norris as the shooter.
Cordero pleaded guilty in June to a charge of prohibited possession of a firearm resolving the shooting and assault cases – his sentencing is set for Feb. 24 – and prosecutors withdrew the drug case in July.
Assistant District Attorney Tedd C. Nesbit asked Griffin Wednesday, “When you and I met, the agreement was that you tell the truth?”
“Yes,” Griffin said.
“Nothing else?” Nesbit continued.
But, according to Booker, it’s difficult to get at what the truth is.
When police questioned Griffin on May 8, he said “Tavares Jackson” shot him.
Griffin explained Wednesday that he knew of Norris only by his first name, and said he picked Norris out of a photo lineup later in the day.
Griffin also told police he didn’t know who jumped him, and testified at the preliminary hearing he didn’t see who hit him. Later, he said the assailant was Ike, whom police believe to have been Isaac Williams. Griffin had testified at the preliminary hearing that Williams was at the gas station that night.
“I didn’t want to involve people who had nothing to do with it,” Griffin said Wednesday.
When asked at the preliminary hearing why he came forward, Griffin responded, “I got a bullet in my chest,” and made no mention of the deal concerning his brother.
Booker also pointed out that Griffin gave different clothing descriptions of Norris – Griffin responded that he wasn’t worried about what people were wearing – and Griffin said he walked back to his car without saying anything, but a surveillance video appears to show him having words with George Phillips.
“He’s changed his story multiple, multiple times,” Booker said. “He had a reason to lie – he’s protecting the people who did it.”
Nesbit argued that Griffin, while not a perfect witness, “did do the right thing.”
Video surveillance footage, Griffin’s medical testimony and the position of bullet casings in the Speed Check parking lot backs Griffin’s story of events, Nesbit said.
Griffin had “no reason to lie,” Nesbit said, adding that the deal concerning Cordero “is not unusual.”
“If he was going to make up a name, why would he make up a name of someone who was there?” Nesbit said. “He didn’t have a deal to make up names. He had a deal to tell us who shot him.”
The jury deliberated about 30 minutes following two days of testimony.
Norris had been in jail since June 4 on $100,000 bond and served about four weeks in jail when he was arrested following the first filing of charges.