The Murder Of Asiyanna Jones – Criminal Musings – S2.01

Asiyanna Jones was a young woman in Pittsfield, Massachusetts who was tragically lost in October of 2017. Join JV as they talk a little bit about her life, how she died, and who she left behind. To donate to her family, please click here, or follow this link. https://www.gofundme.com/ripasiyanna Welcome to Season 2 of Criminal Musings.

(Asiyanna and her 2 friends mentioned in the story.)

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Now, I think it’s important to start here by acknowledging that I am breaking a cardinal rule of this podcast. I am going to be discussing a case that is ongoing in terms of the trial. We have not officially had the full trial yet, and thus the case isn’t over. So you can expect an update on this in the coming months, but… well… I thought this was important to talk about this. This is the case of the murder of Asiyanna Jones.

I want to give a couple special shout outs for this episode. Shout out two Amanda Drane and Bob Dunn, for their coverage of this case in the Berkshire Eagle, which is the local paper to my area. I went to minigolf with Amanda a few months back, with a queer group on the 4th friday of the month. Now, I’m not sure if Amanda will remember this, but we actually went to school together. She was a couple years ahead of me in High School. We didn’t talk much back then for various reasons, but I really admire her writing and commitment to reporting the news in the Berkshires.  She’s an amazing woman, and I always know that, when her name is in the Byline, that the article is going to be accurate and fair, particularly if it pertains to issues of diversity. Rock on, Amanda Drane. Bob, I don’t know you personally, but I want to thank you for keeping the attention on this case alive, and keeping us informed. Asiyanna’s memory is kept alive here, and we seek to bring the people responsible for her death to justice.

 

I want to start with letting you get to know about what a beautiful Black-American queen Asiyanna was. This information comes from the article written by Amanda Drane, sourced from her friends Trinity Newman and Camia Kazimierczak [Kaz-ih-Meer-Zik]. Asiyanna, known as Yanna to her close friends, was born June 7, 1995, in Georgia. She moved to Pittsfield with her family at age 2, and graduated from Pittsfield High School. She previously attended Taconic High School, where she was on the cheerleading team. She was an energetic kid who liked to sing, dance, ride bikes and play house. Her friends said Jones wanted to pursue a career in cosmetology or fashion. She was also skilled at research, they said, and would dig up interesting things online. Jones was always motivating the crew to go on strange adventures, like driving to Rhode Island just to get seafood, which they say was Yanna’s favorite food. She often had a hankering for crab legs, they said, laughing. According to Camia, every Sunday they’d drive to Albany, where Jones would get her hair washed and set, and then they’d eat at Kenneth’s, a Caribbean-American restaurant. Her boisterous and brave energy led the group on wacky, late-night outings that included dancing around the aisles of Walmart. A quote from Trinity: “”She was fearless. I don’t think she was ever scared.” This is utterly heartbreaking, not just because she was so young with such a promising future… It’s that she was so well loved, and that anyone who met her would love her. She is only 5 years younger than me, young enough to be my little sister, which is adding an extra layer of sorrow for me here. I’m geniunely struggling to get through this without crying.

Now to the tragic part: Asiyanna’s life was cut short on October 1st, 2017. Jones was found wounded that night inside a vehicle parked on Dewey Avenue; she died early the next day at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield. The state medical examiner ruled her death a homicide, concluding that the cause of death was a gunshot to the head. Nearby residents reported hearing between three and ten shots around 10:45 p.m., just before Jones was found in a vehicle.

A little information about Dewey Avenue. Dewey Ave is located in the heart of the West Side of pittsfield, often referred to as the hood/ghetto of Pittsfield. This particular street runs parallel to Onota Brook which runs from Pontoosuc lake and feeds into the Housatonic River. It takes 13 minutes to walk from 1 end of the street to the other, and is .7 miles long. Located nearby is Carrie Bak Park, Price Memorial AME Zion Church, Victoria Temple United Church of God In Christ, Southern Comfort Restaurant, and Pitt Park. This is the neighborhood with the highest concentration of Black people in the City of Pittsfield, as well as the neighborhood with the highest concentration of people living below the poverty line. Because, shocker, that’s what racism does and Pittsfield is not and has never been immune to that. That said, one of the most wonderful annual celebrations in the Berkshires takes place in Pitt Park, which was recently renamed Durant Park after the late Rosemary and Rev. William Durant, both of whom I had the pleasure of meeting before their passing. The celebration is called the Gather-In and it is put on every year by the Pittsfield chapter of the NAACP, which I am a member of.

 

Back to the murder of Asiyanna. Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer recorded a brief statement and posted it on her Facebook page the Tuesday following the shooting. Quote: “I am deeply saddened by this and any other acts of violence that take place in our city. Because this is an active investigation, I am limited in what I can share… But I want to reiterate that this matter has the full attention of the city and our law enforcement partners. I also want to encourage those in the community who may have information related to this or to any other crime to please say something. You may have information that is vital to the work of our law enforcement agencies and we need your help. In the days and weeks ahead, please be assured that many, many individuals are hard at work behind the scenes on this matter. We know that you’re counting on us and we’ll do our very best.” End Quote. A similar message went out from the Pittsfield Police Department, adding the following: “Although we have received hundreds of tips, they are just that. We know there were several witnesses, both involved and not involved, that we are asking to come forward. This is not about `snitching,’ `ratting,’ or telling on someone. This is not about your pride or your fear. It’s about justice. This is about doing what’s right, period.” End Quote The lead investigator on the case was Detective Matos.

 

This is going to be a slight side tangent, but bear with me. I wish to give credit where credit is due with the Pittsfield PD, they really did work on this investigation. I should note though, that my relationship to them is complex. In November of 2017, I went to them after being the victim of sexual assault and sexual misconduct at the hands of a local theater actor, which I had an audio recording of. I should clarify here that the definition of Sexual assault includes any unwanted sexual touching, including groping. Now, despite the fact that I had evidence that would have been admissible in court, but the Pittsfield PD would not allow me to file a complaint, I was laughed at before the officer said that I had to go to Great Barrington and not to them which was not the case because the crime happened within 3 blocks of their station. I suspect that the officer assumed my gender, made assumption about me as a black gay man (to clarify, I am Black, but I identify as non-binary) and that I was either lying or that I was overreacting to an assault that lasted 2+ hours. Suffice it to say, I am not the biggest fan of some folks on their force, but I do recognize when they do a great job for the community. But i digress.

 

Onto the suspects. Gary Linen known by the street name “G-Black,” is believed to have come under fire himself, prompting him to shoot at two vehicles — including the silver BMW on Dewey Avenue that Jones was in. A warrant has been issued for his arrest. The account of the shooting was contained in court documents obtained by The Eagle on Monday. Josaiah T. “JoJo” Bynum, 19, allegedly shot at Linen as he was walking near 237 Dewey Ave. about 10:45 p.m. Oct. 2, according to witnesses in the case. In response, police said, Linen opened fire on the vehicle in which Bynum was riding, as well as the BMW in which Jones was seated with another female passenger. Two of the shots pierced the BMW’s windshield, one of which struck Jones in the head. Bynum was arrested about 5:07 p.m. Sunday during a traffic stop on South Street in Pittsfield, according to the city’s police log. He pleaded not guilty in Central Berkshire District Court on Monday to charges of armed assault to murder, discharging a firearm within 500 feet of a building and carrying a firearm without a license.

Justin D. Crawford, 20, is being held on a total of $25,500 bail on drug and weapons charges in connection to a vehicle that was spotted in the area. Crawford was spotted near an SUV that matched the description of one allegedly near both the Dewey Avenue shooting and another report of shots fired nearby about an hour and 45 minutes later. Police spotted that vehicle on Cherry Street shortly after the description went out to officers and identified Crawford, who was standing at the driver’s-side door wearing a black hooded sweatshirt with white markings. When officers approached, Crawford ran. At Crawford’s arraignment, his attorney, Ryan Smith raised questions surrounding Crawford’s identification and whether he had knowledge or access to the gun found by police. Bynum and Carey Pilot, 45, were indicted and arraigned on other charges connected to the events of that evening. In April, Bynum entered not guilty pleas to two counts of armed assault to murder, illegal possession of a firearm and discharging a firearm within 500 feet of a building. In late March, Pilot entered not guilty pleas to two counts of armed assault to murder.

 

Three suspects have been arraigned. To clarify what the arraignment is, I have the following definition from Wikipedia. The arraignment is a formal reading of a criminal charging document in the presence of the defendant to inform the defendant of the charges against them. In response to arraignment, the accused is expected to enter a plea. All 3 have plead not guilty, but time and trial will tell.

 

My heart goes out to Michael Eurquhart and Shanay Jones, Asiyanna’s parents. My sincerest condolences to the two of them. Nothing could ever put this right, but at least, hopefully, some semblance of justice can be found. My heart goes out to Trinity and Camia as well, who are missing their third musketeer. I know she will carry on in spirit, and I know we won’t forget her.

 

I want to see if there is some way to give her a memorial in this town she grew up in. I do know a memorial GoFundMe page for Jones has raised over $4,000 for her grieving family. If anyone is listening and would like to contribute, I have included the link to her GoFundMe page in the shownotes.

I want to end with a quote from a letter to the editor that appeared in the Eagle on October 18th, written by Anne Valli. Quote: “You led me to know her as a person. I would have loved having her as a neighbor or a workmate. It’s pieces like this where victims become real and tangible that offer hope of moving the majority of us to put an end to this unspeakable horror of America’s love of guns. God rest Yanna’s soul — and America’s.”

 

As always, my dear listeners, Be Well, Go on an adventure with your friends in memory of Asiyanna Jones, and above all else, Stay Safe Out There.