Eleven witnesses testify during bench trial for December mall shooting incident

Nine witnesses and two LPD officers testified before the court in the case where a 17-year-old is accused of firing his gun at the Tippecanoe Mall in December.

Posted: Jul 28, 2020 5:06 PM

LAFAYETTE, Ind. (WLFI) - A 17-year-old accused of shooting a gun at the Tippecanoe Mall last December is getting his day in court in the form of a bench trial in Judge Sean Persin's Circuit Court. Iyon Erves is being tried as an adult for the shooting and faces eight charges total.

Tuesday's bench trial almost didn't happen. It was originally scheduled for spring before coronavirus pushed back most court proceedings. The state tried to add an additional last minute count of aggravated battery last Wednesday. The defense said that wasn't enough time for them to respond, and they said they would take the case to jury trial if granted by Judge Persin. That move would have put the trial back by several months. However, the state backed off the additional charge so they could proceed today.

Stephanie Potter was the first witness to take the stand. She testified that she and her daughter went to the mall on December 27th. She said she saw a group of kids who were high school aged in the parking lot. She said she heard what sounded like fighting before she saw three quick gunshots. She said she fell to the ground while trying to run and get her daughter to safety. She said she was "terrified" by the experience.

She ended up shattering her knee and had to get surgery. She said she was in a full leg cast and then a full leg brace for several months before being able to get surgery.

Lafayette Police Officers Ryan French and Carson Smith both testified next. Officer French said there was initial concern that Potter was a gunshot victim, but when he arrive to the scene and realized she wasn't shot, he made sure to alert officers that there was no gunshot victim. The state played body camera footage of this interaction.

Officer French explained how they had to shut down and clear the entire mall. He said every local law enforcement officer in the county, save four or five, responded to the mall. This includes officers from LPD, West Lafayette Police Department, the Tippecanoe County Sheriff's Office, Purdue Police and Indiana State Police. He said it was "all hands on deck" because it was initially thought to be an active shooter situation. He said they eventually learned Erves was at the Dream Palace store inside the mall.

Technician Smith said he was in the process of training to become a crime scene technician on December 27th. He said he handcuffed Erves at Dream Palace and escorted him to his squad car. He said he then helped take photos of the scene and found three shell casings.

Three minors who were part of the friend group involved in the incident testified next. Minor one said she met her sister and some friends at the mall. She said they were in the mall near the Zoomies shop when her male friend began talking with another male that she didn't know. She said a fight was suggested and they went outside.

The group formed outside the mall entrance near Macy's on the roadway between the sidewalk and the parking lot. Minor one said she saw the unknown male pull out a gun from his waistband, pointed it at her male friend and she said she saw two shots while only hearing the third. She said her male friend was running away towards the parking lot by the time the second shot fired. She and her other friends ran back into the mall where they eventually talked to police and were taken to the LPD station.

She said she never felt threatened and that he never pointed the gun at her. She also said she did not see any of her friends with a gun.

Minor two testified next. She confirmed meeting the friend group at the mall. She said they were in the mall when a boy that she didn't know approached the group and talked with the male friend. She said the boy wanted to fight with her male friend. She confirmed the next chain of events, including walking out of the mall, seeing the boy pull the gun from his waistband and aiming at their male friend.

Minor two said she saw one shot and heard three. She said the boy's arm was extended straight and pointing out. She said they all ran away, including the shooter, who ran back into the mall.

Minor three also confirmed the previous stories. She said she only heard three shots because she was running away. She saw the male friend who is the alleged target running into the parking lot and she saw the shooter going back into the mall. She said she didn't see the gun physically being drawn and wasn't fully sure of where it was being pointed. She was able to point out the store the shooter ran back into for police.

Minor four was at the mall and met with Erves. She said she had known him for a few weeks at that point but had been to the Dream Palace before to shop for clothes. She said Erves told her to get a boy who was in a group outside the shop. She knew one of the people in the group vaguely but didn't know any of the girls. She said it was her understanding that there had been negative interactions on social media between Erves and the male friend.

She said she walked out with everyone when it was determined that a fight would happen. She said she stayed near the door of the mall and was not with the rest of the group in the road. She said she got a "bad intuition" about what was about to happen. She said she heard two gun shots but only saw one. She said everyone had run away by the second shot.

She was the only person to testify that Erves' arm was aimed upward from what she saw. She said that Erves suggested the fight, and the male friend said something to the effect of "we have no beef but we can" and that's when they went outside.

Donald and Susan Shively testified after the lunch recess. They both testified individually that they had gone to the mall that evening to buy a new calendar. Donald said a group of teens was in the parking lot when they went to leave. He said he was turned looking for oncoming cars as he went to back out when he said he saw five gunshots being fired by a male.

He said he saw the gun pointed straight ahead while shooting and that it was not possible that the gun had tilted up. He said he did not see the shooter move from his position, even as he saw the group around the shooter scatter.

Susan said she only heard five to six rapid gunshots. She said one male ran towards the parking lot.

Eric Cosgray said he was in the parking lot getting ready to enter the mall when he heard "firework" sounds. He said he heard the first and then saw the second and third being fired. He saw the group of teens scatter, some going into the parking lot, some heading for the mall. He said the shooter was aiming straight and that the shooter didn't follow anyone with his gun who was running away.

The last witness for Tuesday was Christopher Weida. He said he and his son were parked in the front spot next to Macy's. They were getting ready to leave and Weida had turned to look out the back passenger window to back out of the spot. He said he saw a group of teens, one male's arm was straight out and had something black in his hand. He said his mind was just processing the possibility that this could possibly be a shooting situation when he saw the gun being fired two or three times.

He said he distinctly remembered the shooter had a black jacket on with a notable design on the back. The same jacket was found inside the Dream Palace by Officer French. 

Weida said the shooter aimed straight ahead but didn't move as he shot his gun. He said he saw the group scatter. He said if his vehicle had been six feet back, they would have easily been in the line of fire. He also said he did not see exactly who or what the shooter was aiming at.

There is very limited seating in the gallery of the courtroom due to social distancing guidelines. However most of the people who attended Tuesday's bench trial were family members of Erves. They were there in support and many blew kisses and gave words of encouragement to him as they left the courtroom. When questioning the witnesses, the defense appeared to be trying to make the distinction between if their client was actually aiming at somebody versus just shooting into the air.

The state said they have six or seven more witnesses to bring to the stand on Wednesday. Both the state and the defense said they expect the bench trial to end tomorrow as well.

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