AKRON — When first one window in the front his Akron house shattered and then a second, Darnell Bitting said he thought he was under attack.
Bitting testified Thursday that he threw himself over his two young children who were lying on the living room floor and grabbed an AK-47 from underneath the couch.
With his son clutching his leg and his daughter screaming, he said he cocked the assault weapon. Another window shattered and Bitting fired a shot toward a black car parked in front of his house.
The bullet went through the open passenger window of the car and struck 4-year-old Janaya Swain in the head, killing her.
"I didn’t know what was going on," Bitting said Thursday during his murder trial for Janaya’s death. "I thought I was under heavy fire."
Bitting, 32, is claiming self-defense in the death of Janaya. His trial in Summit County Common Pleas Judge Christine Croce’s courtroom began Monday and will conclude Friday morning with closing arguments. The case will then be handed over to the jury.
Bitting is charged with two counts of murder and six counts of felonious assault for the Feb. 16 death of Janaya and the potential harm to her siblings, mother and another female relative who had gone to Bitting’s home that night.
Prosecutors say De’azha Swain, Janaya’s mother, went to Bitting’s Mercer Avenue home about 10:30 p.m. to retrieve some of her belongings and brought along her four young children and the children’s grandmother. They say when Bitting ignored De’azha, she knocked out the windows in the front of his house.
Prosecutors say this enraged Bitting and he fired a shot at De’azha, but it missed her and struck the car, killing her daughter.
Tensions have been high during the trial, with relatives of Bitting and Swain at times exchanging words.
Croce warned those sitting in on the trial to refrain from making comments during testimony. When the judge saw two women in the back of the courtroom disobeying, she ordered them removed from the courtroom. One of the women shouted obscenities in the hallway, claiming they hadn’t done anything wrong.
Detective Clay Cozart testified Thursday morning that both De’azha Swain and Bitting weren’t truthful when they first told police what happened. Swain claimed it was a drive-by shooting, but later admitted to having knocked out Bitting’s windows and to seeing him get the assault rifle and fire the shot. Before the shooting, Cozart said, Swain claimed she locked eyes with Bitting and spoke to him, telling him to give back her stuff.
Bitting told detectives he wasn’t home at the time of the shooting, Cozart said.
Detectives looked into Bittings’ claims that he was elsewhere when the shooting happened but received no cooperation from those they talked to and weren’t able to substantiate his alleged alibi, Cozart said.
Cozart said the first time he heard about Bitting’s self-defense claim was during attorney Colin Meeker’s opening statement in Bitting’s trial.
When Meeker first questioned Bitting Thursday, he asked him to take off his glasses. He said Bitting wasn’t wearing them on the night of the shooting and shouldn’t be wearing them then. He passed the glasses around to the jurors, who took turns peering through the lenses. Meeker then logged the glasses as evidence.
Meeker next had Bitting stand up and show jurors where he was standing and how he was positioned when he fired the rifle. Bitting said he was just inside the doorway, crouched down because of his son clutching his leg.
Bitting said he saw no one outside or in the car parked in front of his house and had no idea who was in the car when he fired his weapon.
Bitting said he felt terrible when he realized Janaya had died. He said he knew her and Swain’s other children from when he dated Swain.
"She ain’t deserve that," he said of Janaya. "Her sisters don’t deserve that. Don’t nobody deserve that."
Bitting said his relationship with Swain soured when she found out he was sleeping with other women. He said she spray-painted his car, busted out the windows and sent him threatening text messages.
On the night of the shooting, Bitting said, Swain came to his house about 10 p.m. with a gun and became irate when she saw another woman there. Bitting said the gun went off, with the bullet traveling through the house and going through the living room wall where his two children were.
Assistant Prosecutor Terri Burnside asked Bitting why he didn’t call police about his encounter with Swain. She also questioned why it didn’t occur to him that Swain may have returned and been the one smashing out his windows.
"I figured it was over with," he said of their feud.
Burnside asked where Bitting went after the shooting and what he did with the rifle.
Bitting said a friend picked him and his children up and he dropped the kids off at a relative’s. He said he left the rifle in the trunk of the car, a rental vehicle that belonged to a female friend, and doesn’t know what happened to it.
Burnside pressed Bitting on his account that changed dramatically from when he talked to detectives to the trial.
"Today, you’re telling the truth," she asked, sounding incredulous.
"Yes, I am telling the truth," he responded. "This is just the only time you heard the truth."
Burnside asked Bitting about a Feb. 18 phone call from the Summit County Jail between him and his cousin in which Bitting said, "If I beat this, I’ll go down in history."
"That was you?" she asked.
"Yes ma’am," he answered.
"If you beat this, you’re going down in history?" she asked.
"That’s what I said," he responded.