Crime

Man who beat murder rap in grad party shooting dies in hail of bullets

Labron Brown gets a hug from his mother, Shawntrel Yearby, outside the courtroom where murder charges were dropped by the prosecution in 2009, in a case where he was accused of murdering two people during a graduation party.
Labron Brown gets a hug from his mother, Shawntrel Yearby, outside the courtroom where murder charges were dropped by the prosecution in 2009, in a case where he was accused of murdering two people during a graduation party. MIAMI HERALD FILE

Early Saturday morning, a car rolled to a stop on I-95 just off the exit ramp from Little Haiti. When Florida Highway Patrol troopers arrived, they found the bullet-riddled bodies of two men, one in the passenger seat, another outside the car. Both men died.

Though police have yet to publicly release the names of the men, one of them has been identified as Labron Brown, a 23-year-old who prosecutors believe was the shooter in a high-profile murder case at a high school graduation party eight years ago.

Brown, who spent 15 months in jail before the start of the trial, was set free after the state was forced to drop the case when witnesses recanted testimony in fear of retaliation, state prosecutors said.

“When the only witness of some 300 people recanted, we had no choice but to drop charges,” said Miami-Dade State Attorney spokesman Ed Griffith. “That’s our crime frustration, when witnesses fail to cooperate.”

But Brown’s attorney Andrew Rier presents Brown in a much different light, calling his client a father and a “loving son” who worked with his dad mowing lawns.

“I know he was trying to get away from that type of lifestyle,” Rier said Monday.

Miami police aren’t releasing much information on the early Saturday morning double homicide. FHP Trooper Joe Sanchez said the car was found facing south along the wall in the emergency lane of I-95 just north of Northwest 54th Street.

Sanchez said drivers on the highway stopped to help after Brown, who was driving the car, crawled out from behind the steering wheel and collapsed on the road. The passenger, who has not been named, was already dead. Brown died about an hour later at the hospital.

Sanchez said the case was turned over to Miami police because no shells or other evidence were found near the pockmarked car, leaving law enforcement to believe the shooting happened somewhere else. Also, FHP investigates traffic homicides, not murder cases.

“They shot up the whole car,” Sanchez said.

Miami police have not publicly released the names of the dead men, and are not commenting on the shootings. Sources familiar with the incident, however, have confirmed Brown was one of the victims.

Miami-Dade County records show a Lebron Brown — the first name spelled mistakenly like that of a famous basketball player — was taken to the morgue at 5:31 a.m. Saturday, less than three hours after the bodies were found on the highway.

In June 2007, Brown became one of the faces of law enforcement frustration over the public’s “no snitch” attitude and its fear in testifying in shooting incidents. A case 15 months in the making fell apart after one of the shooting suspects was killed in an unrelated case before the trial; another kid involved in a fight that night at the graduation party refused to testify. When the main witness finally backed out of earlier testimony, claiming he was coerced by police into blaming Brown, the case collapsed.

“It was clear to us there was a serious ID issue,” Rier said.

It was a Saturday night eight years ago when Labron Brown catapulted into the spotlight. About 300 teens and young adults from area schools were celebrating their graduation and a birthday party at the Polish-American Hall on Northwest 22nd Avenue. At about 1 a.m., four males entered the building wearing bandanas, some carrying weapons, witnesses said.

At first, witnesses said, they started arguing with some of the graduates. When two males tried to break up the fight, the gunshots started. Four people were injured, including a pregnant woman. Samuel Brown, 16, and Michael Bradshaw, 20, were gunned down.

Brown, charged with second-degree murder and carrying a concealed weapon, would spend the next 15 months in jail. Another man also accused of firing his weapon was killed before the trial began. As the trial neared, Kenneth Joe Edwards, the chief witness in the shootings, recanted earlier statements.

Others there that night also refused to testify, including one graduate who was allegedly fighting with the shooters and had a gold chain snatched from his neck. The case crumbled and Brown was set free.

Despite the close call, Florida Department of Law Enforcement records show Brown continued to get into trouble. In 2010, he was picked up by Miami-Dade police and eventually convicted of carrying a concealed firearm. A year later, Miramar police found him loitering and prowling and violating his probation. Those charges were dropped.

Brown ran into trouble again in January 2013, when Miami-Dade police arrested him and he was charged with first-degree murder. Two weeks later, those charges were dropped. The incident, which took place in Miami Gardens, involved a robbery-gone-wrong when someone tried to snatch jewelry and a man was shot and killed.

Griffith, the state attorney spokesman, said initially that a surviving robbery victim couldn’t identify the shooter. But a few days later, the man and others who were there that day came up with Brown’s name.

Prosecutors dropped the case less than two weeks later because they didn’t believe it would stick and they were worried the evidence would be considered tainted.

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