Teen claims he feared for his life when he fatally shot New Kensington man

Dec. 7—A New Kensington teenager told a Westmoreland County jury he feared for his life when he shot and killed an armed man as the victim fled from the lobby of an apartment building last year.

Amir Kennedy, 16, testified he fired off 11 rounds from a semiautomatic rifle to protect himself and six friends after a purported drug deal inside the lobby the Valley Royal Court Apartments in New Kensington turned violent.

"I was afraid he would point a gun back at me and possibly shoot me," Kennedy testified after describing the physical altercation inside the lobby that ended when an armed 39-year-old Jason Raiford ran outside but he, instead, was gunned down.

"I saw him fall. I didn't know if I had hit him or not, so I kept shooting. I got closer to him to make sure he still had a gun in his hand," Kennedy testified Thursday during the trial's third day.

Kennedy was the final witness to testify in the murder trial in which he and two others are charged with Raiford's death on July 3, 2022. Kennedy is accused of criminal homicide, first-degree murder, robbery, conspiracy, aggravated assault and other related offenses.

DaMontae Brooks, 17, and Elijah Gary, 20, both of New Kensington, are charged with criminal homicide, second-degree murder, robbery, conspiracy and other offenses in connection with Raiford's death.

Closing arguments are set for Friday morning.

Prosecutors claim those three, along with four other suspects, gathered to rob Raiford over an existing drug debt with Gary.

Kennedy — who was 14 at the time of the shooting — told jurors he lived in various homes in the New Kensington area for about seven months after he was kicked out of the family home by his mother.

Kennedy said he sold drugs to buy food and clothes. He said about two weeks before the shooting, he paid between $600 and $700 to purchase a stolen rifle for protection.

He said he carried the rifle with him as he and the six others who are charged with Raiford's killing gathered outside the apartment building.

Kennedy denied allegations he knew there was a plot to rob Raiford but admitted to having a prior altercation with him.

Two weeks earlier, Kennedy said, he and Gary met with Raiford to sell him drugs; they argued over money.

"He (Raiford) starts to drive off and starts yelling and screaming, 'I don't want this. I will kill both y'all,' " Kennedy testified.

Throughout the three days of testimony this week, prosecutors played surveillance video of the altercation inside the lobby of the apartment building. Videos depicted a melee in which Raiford was hit over the head with a pistol and a wild scramble to retrieve the weapon after it fell to the ground.

Additional videos appeared to show Kennedy fleeing the building, setting up in a defensive position about 20 feet outside the building's entrance and pointing and firing a rifle as Raiford ran out the front door.

The prosecution claims Kennedy hit Raiford with 11 rounds. Raiford received 10 wounds in his back and head, including several that struck him while he lay face down on the ground, prosecutors said.

Kennedy told jurors he did not know what led to the violence inside the building lobby, but said he saw Gary strike Raiford in the head with a gun and watched as he retrieved the weapon after it fell to the ground.

Prosecutors questioned Kennedy about his actions.

"There was nothing but green grass and blue sky. There's nothing keeping you from running away. Why didn't you just turn and run," asked Assistant District Attorney Jackie Knupp.

"I didn't want to run and get shot in the back," Kennedy answered.

The prosecution claims Raiford's shooting was the end result of a robbery plot.

Westmoreland County Detective Jason Napier testified he believed the videos of the altercation is evidence of a robbery.

According to Napier, Gary told investigators Raiford owed him $100 for an unpaid drug debt, and he planned to confront him about the money when he arrived at the apartment building prior to the shooting.

Neither Gary nor Brooks testified this week.

Raquan Carpenter, 20, of Pittsburgh testified he gave Gary an unloaded handgun as part of a plot to recover money owed by Raiford.

Carpenter, along with Avian Molter, 16, of Pittsburgh; Jonathan Felder, 19, of Arnold; and Braden Dickinson, 16, of New Kensington are listed as potential prosecution witnesses.

They also are facing charges of criminal homicide, second-degree murder, robbery, conspiracy and other offenses.

Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Rich by email at rcholodofsky@triblive.com or via Twitter .