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The stray bullet that pierced the forehead of an 82-year-old grandfather outside his apartment on the city's West Side last year was intended for someone else - Gregory Covington.
Some people knew this - as well as the accused gunman's identity - at the time of the fatal shooting. But they did not help the police investigation until months later when one of them ran into legal problems of her own, according to testimony this week in State Supreme Court.
"Greg Covington knew full well who had shot at him," homicide prosecutor Colleen Curtin Gable said in her opening statement during Bangaly D. Chelley's murder trial.
Covington and Chelley had fought the day before the shooting, Curtin Gable said. The next day - May 28, 2011 - Chelley stepped out of an SUV and fired three shots from a black handgun, not far from where Ansumane Kanneh was fixing his granddaughter's bicycle, the prosecutor said.
Covington, she said, "ran for his life" from Chelley, whom prosecutors accuse of firing the fatal shot that killed Kanneh outside his apartment, near the Maryner Towers apartment complex close to LaSalle Park.
"The defendant missed his intended target but is responsible for the death of Mr. Kanneh," Curtin Gable said.
Chelley's murder trial enters its third day today before State Supreme Court Justice M. William Boller.
"It's a tragic thing that somebody's dead," defense attorney Barry S. Dolgoff said. "There's no denying it. But Mr. Chelley didn't do it."
Covington did not tell the police that day what had happened. So far, he also has failed to show up at the trial, even though prosecutors have called for him to testify.
Shirley Covington, Gregory Covington's 28-year-old sister, did not rush to help police, either. She told jurors she talked to Chelley - whom she knows by his nickname, Dennis - on a cellphone shortly after the shooting.
"I told Dennis he couldn't even aim right, because he killed his own people," she testified.
Chelley ended the phone call by threatening to kill her, too, she said.
Shirley Covington told authorities what she knew about the shooting after the FBI arrested her in January on a charge of conspiracy to distribute cocaine.
Why didn't she go to the police at the time of the shooting?
She said she was "scared and nervous."
Colletta Yarborough, 29, who moved to Buffalo from Long Island in 2009, said in court she was at a store at Maryland Street and Trenton Avenue when she saw Chelley exchange words with a man she believes to be Gregory Covington. "Next thing, he started shooting," she said of Chelley.
She said she saw him shoot but did not see where the bullets struck. "I ran," she said.
When the prosecutor asked Yarborough why she did not immediately tell the police what she saw, she said, "I was scared."
Homicide detective Reginald Minor described a chaotic scene when he arrived to investigate the shooting. He said "No" when asked by the prosecutor if people came forward with information.
Yarborough said she ran from the shooting scene without talking to police. She also told police in November that she did not see anything. But then she talked to police in February about what she had seen, she said.
Police arrested Chelley, 29, of Ferguson Avenue, in early March.
The Police Department's struggle to get witnesses to come forward with information about what they saw was apparent during the trial, and the credibility of the witnesses could become an issue for jurors.
Dolgoff, the defense lawyer, referred to the prosecution's witnesses as "thugs" and "experienced liars."
Their testimony may not help as much as prosecutors hope, if jurors believe that it comes from people who will say anything to stay out of jail or gain permission from parole officials to move away.
Dolgoff asked Shirley Covington is she was hoping for a better outcome for her drug case from federal prosecutors by cooperating with the Erie County District Attorney's Office in the Kanneh shooting. "Yes," she replied.
She said she has not received any promises about punishment in her case, although she said she has been told her cooperation would be made known to federal prosecutors.
Kanneh was a father of five. He brought his family to Western New York in 2004, fleeing from a violent civil war in his native Liberia.
"My father was outside fixing a bike in front of the house," said Mohamed Kanneh, 21.
Alerted by a child who lives next door about his father's injury, the younger Kanneh ran to the front of his home at Maryland and Efner streets.
"I didn't see what happened," he said. "I saw my dad lying there with blood from his forehead."

email: plakamp@buffnews.com