Star high school basketball player Tyreke Evans was clearly in the wrong place at the wrong time: He was the driver of an SUV that sped away from a shooting last month that left one man dead.
But while plenty of people end up in prison for driving away from a murder scene, criminal law experts say Evans, a 6-foot-6 basketball phenomenon considered one of the nation's top high school players, is likely to be a key prosecution witness rather than an accused accomplice.
Evans was described as "our witness" in the case by Delaware County District Attorney Michael Green. He declined to say whether Evans would face any charges.
Criminal law experts said yesterday that Evans would have no criminal culpability unless there was evidence that he knew in advance that the shooting would take place or had a role in planning or "facilitating" it.
"Without knowledge, you're not guilty of any kind of criminal liability as an accomplice," said veteran defense lawyer Peter Goldberger, who called Evans a "perfect example" of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
"Clearly, there's no criminal liability if that's what the facts are," said longtime Center City defense lawyer Dennis J. Cogan. "This is nothing more than being present at the scene of a crime."
Former federal prosecutor Jeffrey M. Lindy said Evans apparently got caught in a dangerous situation. "I think it would be hard under those facts to charge him," he said.
Killed in the shooting on Nov. 25 was Marcus Reason, 19. He was shot shortly after 5 p.m. on the front steps of his home on Rainer Road in Chester Township.
Evans' 16-year-old cousin, who was a passenger in Evans' Ford Expedition, is charged with murder.
According to an affidavit, Evans, a senior at American Christian Academy in Aston, told investigators on Dec. 18 that he, his cousin and two friends had been at his aunt's home next door watching a football game on TV.
His mother called and said she had just baked some pies, Evans said, so they left to go to her house. He got into his Ford Expedition, with his cousin Jamar "Mar Mar" Evans and friends Rasheen "Ra-Ra" Blackwell and Dwayne Davis as passengers.
Suddenly, Blackwell and Davis yelled, "Go! He's about to shoot!" Evans told investigators. He said he heard a gunshot coming from the rear of his vehicle, and then a second louder shot. While driving away, Evans looked over and saw his cousin putting a handgun into the pocket of his hoodie, according to the affidavit.
Davis told investigators that as they got into Evans' SUV, he saw Marcus Reason running toward them with a gun, and that Reason fired a shot at them. He then heard a second shot and saw the cousin bring his right arm - and a gun - back into the vehicle, according to the affidavit.
Chester Township Capt. Kenneth J. Coalson said police were pleased that the basketball star decided to cooperate - even though it "took a while."
"He had to be coaxed to do the right thing," said Coalson, adding that the Evans family exerted some influence.
Evans' attorney, Brian McMonagle, said Evans was a potential crime victim who had cooperated with police and will continue to do so.
"I am not aware of any theory under which anybody would want to prosecute him. He didn't do anything wrong," said McMonagle.
Temple University law professor JoAnne Epps said Evans helped his own status in the investigation by cooperating with police with the help of an experienced lawyer.
Cogan said he does not believe that Evans' acclaim as a basketball star would have a bearing on the investigation. In some places, he said, police might be eager to charge a celebrity with a crime. But a defendant with celebrity status in turn usually has an advantage with a jury.
Goldberger said there are plenty of people who end up in prison for driving away from shooting scenes. "Any working public defender could give you a horror story of that kind," he said.
McMonagle said it's not as if Evans was the driver in a drive-by street-corner shooting; he was merely on his way to his mother's house for some fresh-baked pie. "It's like the difference between lightning and lightning bugs," he said.