Fayette County

Families, friends say murder charge makes no sense

Jamar Mays, 16 at the time, was surrounded by police officers on Nov. 23 at the scene of a shooting where he lived on Dorset Drive. His best friend, Ali Shalash, at top, had been shot and died later that day. Jamar is now charged.
Jamar Mays, 16 at the time, was surrounded by police officers on Nov. 23 at the scene of a shooting where he lived on Dorset Drive. His best friend, Ali Shalash, at top, had been shot and died later that day. Jamar is now charged.

By all accounts, Jamar Mays and Ali Shalash were like brothers.

The two boys had been close for so long, no one seems to be able to recall much about their time apart. They met in middle school and quickly became buddies.

Known by their nicknames "Skor Luv" and "Habiem," Jamar and Ali were like many other 16- or 17-year-old boys: they hooped at local parks, listened to music, watched movies, scarfed down fast food and played video games like Call of Duty or NBA Live from dusk to dawn.

"They did everything together," said Katrina Ferguson, Jamar's mother.

The duo saw each other every day. Their bond might have been fortified last August when they spent more than nine hours in the car to visit Jamar's family in Paducah. During the ride, the boys flipped through radio stations in search of any song they knew the words to. They sang most of the way there and back.

Ferguson said she wasn't bothered by the racket as long as the boys were enjoying themselves.

"They're singing the whole entire time from one end of town to the other end of town," she recalled, laughing.

Jamar and Ali's close relationship is the reason their mothers, friends and anyone else who knew the boys well have a hard time making sense of the shooting that left Ali, 17, dead and Jamar, 17, facing 20 years to life if he is convicted on a murder charge.

Ali died Nov. 23 at Jamar's home on Dorset Drive in Lexington. Jamar told investigators that a man in a ski mask had shot through the window, hitting Ali. A handgun and a shell casing were later found on the property. Police eventually charged Jamar.

He was indicted in April on charges of murder, tampering with physical evidence and being a minor in possession of a handgun.

Jamar's attorney, public defender Tom Griffiths, waived formal arraignment but did not originally enter a plea because he said he's not convinced Mays should be tried in adult court. However, at a status hearing for Mays on Friday, Griffiths told Fayette Circuit Judge Ernesto Scorsone that within three weeks, they would be ready to either resolve the case or schedule a trial date. Mays' next status hearing is Aug. 6.

Investigators have not discussed a motive for the shooting. If the two boys had been feuding, they certainly didn't share that with their friends or family.

Friends say they don't know what happened that afternoon. But those who know the teens best don't think it was murder.

"I don't know why they're charging him with murder. I don't understand that," said family friend Danina Wilkinson. "Anybody who knows them and their relationship can tell you that if Skor did do it, it was not intentional at all.

"Skor loved that boy."

'They got him'

Ali had become such a familiar face around Katrina Ferguson's home that she began to think of him as one of her own.

There were nights when Ferguson drove Ali to the store or picked him up from another friend's house. And there were several occasions when Ali would sit and talk to Ferguson while waiting for Jamar to get home.

"Jamar didn't have to be around for Ali to say 'oh, I'm going with you. I'm going to ride with you,' " she said.

As he did on countless other nights, Ali slept over at Jamar's house on Nov. 22.

Ferguson, an audiologist's assistant at Lexington's Veterans Affairs Medical Center, left for work the next morning, leaving the two boys home alone.

Some time before 2:08 p.m., Jamar called his mother at work to tell her that Ali had been shot.

Ferguson called 911.

Emergency crews got there about 2:10 p.m. Not long after that, officers responding to reports of a teenager screaming and a break-in pulled up to Jamar's home at 2048 Dorset Drive.

When officers arrived, Jamar, then 16, was standing in the front yard with blood smeared on his shirt and socks. His knuckles were bleeding.

Inside the home, Ali lay on the floor, dying from a gunshot wound to the head. He was rushed to University of Kentucky Chandler Hospital. At one point doctors detected a faint pulse, but Ali never regained consciousness. He was pronounced dead about 7 p.m.

Jamar stayed at the scene while officers canvassed the house and neighborhood, looking for the shooter and searching for evidence.

Neighbors told investigators they never heard a gunshot, or anything out of the ordinary until they heard Jamar screaming for help outside and shouting "They got him! They got him!"

Jamar told investigators a man in a ski mask raised the screen of an open window and fired a handgun blindly into Jamar's bedroom.

When canine units arrived, the dogs were unable to pick up the scent of the masked gunman. No one reported seeing a masked man running from the house.

No other suspects

Jamar told officers his window had been open because he was smoking. Officers reported smelling marijuana when they arrived.

But the window he said the killer shot through was nearly 7 feet off the ground — and only open about 5 inches. Police reports say preliminary trajectory results showed the bullet likely was not fired from the window.

Officers eventually found a .45-caliber Hi-Point handgun in a parked car out back, and a .45 shell casing buried in a kitchen trash can. Detectives also found a copper bullet fragment in Jamar's room.

It was 10:30 p.m. before officers and detectives left the house, but they would continue investigating for another month and a half.

On Jan. 7, Jamar was arrested.

During their investigation, officers repeatedly heard rumors from friends and family that the shooting was an accident; that the gun had gone off while Jamar was loading it.

Police have declined to discuss details of the case.

Commonwealth's Attorney Ray Larson said he could not comment because the case is pending.

Jamar's attorneys, public defenders Erica Roland and Griffiths, would not say much about the case because they don't want to anger the judge or violate Jamar's trust.

"Sometimes it's very difficult to get a trusting relationship with a juvenile client," she said.

Nobody really knows

Jamar is being held at a juvenile detention center in Breathitt County.

Ferguson said even though her son has been charged with Ali's killing, he still struggles with what happened as he sits in jail awaiting trial.

"He has good days and bad days," she said. "He misses Ali."

Jamar, a talented artist who was awarded the Gifted and Talented services in Fayette County for Art, now faces a trial that will undoubtedly change his future.

Both Jamar and Ali had records with the Department of Juvenile Justice, but neither had been convicted of a felony or a violent crime.

Jamar had been arrested for having a handgun before, a misdemeanor for a first offense.

It's not clear what type of trouble Ali got into.

Wilkinson said both Ali and Jamar were good guys.

Ali was known for having a big appetite.

"The boy ate," she recalled. "I don't know how his momma could afford to feed him."

Jamar, Ferguson said, was known to help elderly neighbors pull Herbies out to the curb for trash pickup, and was first to volunteer to babysit younger relatives.

He was always good with kids, Wilkinson said, even before his 1-year-old daughter was born.

"Even though he's a child, he loves his daughter," Wilkinson said. "He cherishes his daughter."

Ferguson said another child is on the way, and she's worried about the children being raised without their father if he's sent to prison.

Many of Jamar's friends think he was wrongfully charged. They have started a "Free Skor" movement on Myspace.com.

Friends and families of both boys are waiting anxiously for the court to reveal exactly what happened the day Ali was killed.

Nothing seems to make sense.

After the shooting, rumors swirled that Jamar and Ali had ties to gangs. Friends and family dispute those reports.

Wilkinson said the boys never fought or argued. Their most heated conversations were about girls.

"That's all they talk about is girls, girls, girls," Wilkinson said, laughing.

"There's people saying this and people saying that, but nobody really knows (what happened except) Skor, because Skor and Habiem were there," Wilkinson said. "Habiem's gone."

At the end of the day, Wilkinson says everyone loses.

Dozens of Jamar's and Ali's friends wear lockets with Ali's picture. Some have tattoos of his nickname, Habiem, or his portrait, Wilkinson said.

"They miss their brothers," Wilkinson said. "They miss Skor. They miss Habiem."

Among friends

July 5 would have been Ali's 18th birthday. Gwendolyn Perkins, Ali's mother, threw a party for him, hoping he was there in spirit as more than 100 family members turned out to celebrate.

Perkins said every day has been a struggle since her son died. She visits his grave at least twice a week. And every day she listens to a tape Ali recorded for her just before he died.

His plan was to be on American Idol, Perkins said, and she thinks he had a shot at fame.

"He loved to sing. It's something that he did all day long, every day."

Ali is survived by a large family, Perkins said, including four siblings, six nieces and nephews and many cousins, aunts and uncles.

It's family, she said, that keeps her going.

The Shalash family — Ali's father's side of the family — is no stranger to tragedy.

In 1997, Ali's father, Osama Shalash, was gunned down in front of a Perkins' restaurant on Richmond Road.

Osama Shalash had served three years in prison for his part in a cocaine ring. He was killed the year after being released.

The man who hired the shooter said Osama Shalash had shorted him in a drug deal.

Perkins would not talk about Osama Shalash.

Instead, Perkins talks about how her son would climb into bed with her early in the morning and kiss her on the neck just because he knew it tickled her.

"There's so many fun things that me and Ali did together that I think about every day and it makes me laugh, to know that he was on this earth with me at one given time," she said, fighting back tears.

Perkins said she is hopeful that more facts will surface at Jamar's hearing on Aug. 6. But closure wouldn't necessarily bring happiness.

"I'll still cry every day," she said.

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