Man Acquitted In Shotgun Killing

Date: January 24, 2004
Edition(s): ALLPage: B1
Section: TRIAD
Source: SCOTT MICHELS Staff Writer

Michael Atoyebi left the Guilford County courthouse Friday knowing that whoever murdered his brother might never face justice.

A Durham man was acquitted Friday afternoon of what a prosecutor called the brutal, “completely random and senseless” murder of Atoyebi’s brother, Nigerian cab driver Sunday Adlabi Atoyebi.

Sunday Atoyebi was shot three times – in the side, the back of the neck and the face – with a 12-gauge pistol-grip shotgun while sitting in the front seat of his cab. He’d apparently had an argument with several men in his apartment-complex parking lot just before the shooting, but there was no clear indication of who killed him or why. No money was taken.

“Somebody knows something about it and somebody should be punished,” Michael Atoyebi said. “Somebody is supposed to be punished. Now, everything is gone. None of them will be punished.”

Shells at the scene matched a gun owned by 32-year-old Jeyonne Balil Sabir, who lived around the corner from Atoyebi at the time of his death in 2001. Sabir said he’d given the gun to an acquaintance to sell.

A jury found Sabir not guilty of first-degree murder after deliberating for about 90 minutes. He had faced life in prison without parole.

Two other men, Tony Russell Morse and James Curtis Vample, who were at the scene when Atoyebi was killed, were also charged in 2001 with first-degree murder. Those charges were later dropped.

“I don’t want the blood of my brother to go in vain like that,” Michael Atoyebi said.
Sabir originally told police he knew nothing about the shooting that occurred May 11, 2001. He later told them that there was a party in the apartment complex that night, and that he’d put his shotgun outside his house for Morse, who was supposed to sell the weapon.

Sabir said Vample returned the gun later that night.
Witnesses said Vample, Morse and Mario Jessup were driving out of the complex parking lot about 11:30 p.m. as Atoyebi drove in. The cab driver had gone to buy bread for his kids’ lunches.

Vample, who is in prison on drug charges, said he approached Atoyebi and had an argument with him but that Sabir shot him. Other witnesses said they did not recognize Sabir as one of the men standing outside Atoyebi’s cab before he was killed.

Morse did not testify.
Vample also said that Sabir was standing about six feet from Atoyebi when he shot him, contradicting testimony from the medical examiner, who said the killer was less than two feet from the cab driver.

Sabir’s attorney, Robert O’Hale, suggested that Vample was the probable killer. “This was a lazy investigation,” he told the jury.

“It was ‘we’ll just use Vample to testify against Sabir because it’s Sabir’s gun.’ That’s the extent of their investigation,” he said.

Assistant district attorney David Long said there was no evidence to convict Vample.
“The jury just didn’t believe my witnesses,” Long said after the trial. “They had to make a choice and they chose to believe the defendant.”

Sabir did not return a phone message seeking comment.
Atoyebi’s family described him as a hard-working man and devoted father who took care of his family in the U.S. and Nigeria.

“It’s a senseless crime,” Long told the jury. “There’s no explaining why Sunday Atoyebi is dead.”

Article published in the  Greensboro News and Record

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