Trial begins for ‘lookout’ during El Mula banquet hall shooting killing 3, injuring 20

Shooting survivors testify during the trial of the man accused of being ‘the eyes of the operation’

MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, Fla. – A 24-year-old man appeared in court on Thursday for his first day of a trial over his alleged role in the 2021 Memorial Day weekend shooting during a rap party at the El Mula Banquet Hall in Miami-Dade County.

The shooting lasted about 10 seconds at 7630 NW 186 St., and the barrage of bullets hit 23 victims — killing Shaniqua Peterson, Desmond Owens, and Clayton Dillard III and injuring 20 others.

Davonte Barnes, who is not accused of shooting at the victims, is the only suspect facing charges in a case stemming from the gang-related ambush, according to prosecutors.

Davonte Barnes appears in court on Thursday in Miami-Dade County. (Copyright 2023 by WPLG - All rights reserved.)

“It was a significant event in Miami-Dade County,” Circuit Judge Marisa Tinkler Mendez said in court on Thursday about the shooting at about 12:30 a.m., on May 30, 2021.

During opening statements on Thursday, Assistant State Attorney Kioceaia Stenson described Barnes as “the eyes of the operation” and the “lookout” who arrived early to “scope out the scene.” She said Barnes checked if the target, a local rapper, was there and reported back to the gunmen who were waiting.

“They had a target, they had a plan, and they executed it,” Stenson said.

Assistant State Attorney Kioceaia Stenson, left, and Attorney Robert Barrar, right, who is defending Davonte Barnes, deliver their opening statements on Thursday in Miami-Dade County court. (Copyright 2023 by WPLG - All rights reserved.)

Attorney Robert Barrar, who was defending Barnes, asked the jury to remember that in the U.S. “we don’t take away people’s freedom because of who they may hang out with.”

“The evidence will show that in this case, the evidence has been compromised,” Barrar said later adding that Barnes’s interrogation was about eight hours long, and “he said what they wanted him to say.”

The trial’s first witness was Ke’Dedra Thomas who was shot in the back three times while waiting to get inside the banquet hall for a rap concert with a friend who was back home during his break from college.

Witnesses who were among the 20 injured on May 30, 2021, outside of El Mula Banquet Hall, testified on Thursday in Miami-Dade County court. (Copyright 2023 by WPLG - All rights reserved.)

Thomas said that at first, she thought the gunshots were fireworks. Through tears, she described how it wasn’t until she heard people screaming and saw some falling on the floor that she realized what happened.

“I crawled to my phone to call my mom and my dad because that same night it was my dad’s birthday, so I at least wanted to tell him, ‘I love you,’” Thomas said.

Thomas said a woman she had never met helped to put pressure on her wounds before Miami-Dade Fire Rescue personnel arrived to take her to Aventura Hospital. One of the bullets “bruised” her lungs, she said.

Ana Garcia testified about how her car was stolen on May 5, 2021, and later ended up involved in a mass shooting in Miami-Dade County and later in a canal. (Copyright 2023 by WPLG - All rights reserved.)

“There was so much going on I got discharged that next day ... I stayed in Liberty City, Jackson {Memorial Hospital] was at capacity, I had to go back to Aventura ... My body was going into shock ... I had to stay in a coma for a week so they could get everything under control and get me a blood transfusion,” Thomas said.

The prosecution’s second witness was Ana Garcia, whose car was stolen on May 5, 2021, and then used by the shooters. Detectives found it in a canal on May 31, 2021, at Northwest 154 Street and Second Avenue.

Anthony Paul also testified about standing outside of the banquet hall with other people who were “clustered around” like a “pack” for a few minutes before “gunfire erupted.” At first, he said he thought there were fireworks, but then he saw “everybody on the ground, just chaos. Everybody crying, screaming.”

Anthony Paul testified on Thursday in Miami-Dade County court. (Copyright 2023 by WPLG - All rights reserved.)

Paul said he had been shot once in his right knee, so he decided to crawl inside the banquet hall and hid under a pool table near a “group of girls” in the corner. Paul said that amid the mayhem he lost his friends, but they found him as he crawled to a door.

“My friends picked me up and put me in a car,” Paul said adding they took him to Jackson Memorial Hospital’s Ryder Trauma Center where stayed for three weeks.

Paul also said he lives with “metal rods, some screws, and plates,” so “it hurts” when he walks sometimes.

Tevin Esty-Lambert, another witness who testified, said he was waiting to get inside the banquet hall to “show support” to Courtney Paul Wilson, better known as rapper Spitta when he saw the shooters coming from the alleyway — but he couldn’t see their faces.

“I felt myself get hit and I immediately dropped and took cover,” Esty-Lambert said adding that he was shot in the chest.

Esty-Lambert said he crawled on the floor, pushed himself up, ran to his car, and drove himself to Jackson North Medical Center. He said he was later transferred to Aventura Hospital.

Officer Kevin Lopez testified about his response to the shooting on May 30, 2021, in Miami-Dade County court. (Copyright 2023 by WPLG - All rights reserved.)

Officer Kevin Lopez testified, and the prosecution played a portion of his body-worn cam video.

Lopez said that after finding out there was a shooting he found a man injured in the area of 186 Street, also known as Miami Gardens Drive and Ludlam Lane.

When he arrived at the crime scene after confusion that delayed his response, Lopez said he saw “several bodies on the ground.” He described what he saw there as “horrible.”

Miami-Dade Dade County Circuit Judge Marisa Tinkler Mendez presides over the first day of a trial related to the 2021 shooting outside of El Mula Banquet Hall. (Copyright 2023 by WPLG - All rights reserved.)

Tinkler Mendez said court was in recess until 9 a.m., on Friday. Barnes remained in the custody of the Miami-Dade County Pre-Trial Detention Center on Thursday, county inmate records show.

Barnes was arrested on Sept. 23, 2021, and prosecutors charged him with three counts of first-degree murder and 20 counts of first-degree attempted murder, records show.

Barnes faces the possibility of life in prison without parole. Tinkler Mendez announced a death penalty waiver before the trial started.


Before the trial started on Thursday afternoon, Barrar asked Tinkler Mendez to consider Barnes’s confession inadmissible since new facts had become available after a prior ruling was made.

The defense took issue with Officer Yunieski D. Arriola, who was under investigation for grand theft and official misconduct and who was involved in Barnes’s case. Barrar also said the recording of Barnes’s interrogation was missing audio for about two hours.

While under oath, on Thursday in the courtroom, Arriola told the judge that when he testified on March 7 in Barnes’s case he was not aware that he was under investigation.

“On Aug. 9, I became aware that I was under investigation, but the reason, I just found out today what it was,” Arriola told the judge.

After questioning Arriola in court, Tinkler Mendez said she had decided to stand by Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Robert T. Watson’s ruling on the admissibility of Barnes’s confession in the case.


Only one suspected shooter was arrested, but prosecutors dropped the case citing insufficient evidence.

Warneric Buckner confessed on Oct. 6, 2021, of being one of the shooters armed with a rifle on May 30, 2021, after surveillance video showed three masked gunmen in a white Nissan Pathfinder that had been stolen, according to police.

Buckner faced three counts of first-degree murder and 20 counts of attempted murder when police officers arrested him. Corrections held him without bond until prosecutors dropped the case.

According to the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office, Buckner’s confession was inadmissible because he had invoked his right to an attorney before an interrogation continued without one.

Watch the proceeding on Facebook Live (Part 1)

Watch the proceeding on Facebook Live (Part 2)

Today’s reports

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Local 10 archives: Related stories

Newly obtained surveillance video shows people running for cover outside El Mula banquet hall in northwest Miami-Dade after three gunmen pulled up to the venue and opened fire.

Crime scene location

About the Authors:

Liane Morejon is an Emmy-winning reporter who joined the Local 10 News family in January 2010. Born and raised in Coral Gables, Liane has a unique perspective on covering news in her own backyard.

The Emmy Award-winning journalist joined the Local 10 News team in 2013. She wrote for the Miami Herald for more than 9 years and won a Green Eyeshade Award.