PIERRE, South Dakota — A week before Christmas in 2012, 16-year-old Braiden McCahren and two friends were hanging out at McCahren's house in Pierre after school. By 5:30 p.m., police had a call of a gunshot at the home and soon after one of the boys, 16-year-old Dalton Williams, was dead.
A state prosecutor will spend the next two weeks trying to prove to a jury in Winner that McCahren knowingly killed Williams and is guilty of first-degree murder. A conviction on the charge could mean life in prison for McCahren.
The only witness besides McCahren told police that McCahren shot Williams, pointing a Benelli semi-automatic shotgun at the boys and pulling the trigger twice without it firing, then loading the gun and firing again.
McCahren's attorneys have called Williams' death an accident, saying McCahren was unaware the gun was loaded.
McCahren's prosecution has taken almost 21 months to reach trial, having been delayed nearly half a dozen times as attorneys from both sides contested what evidence can be used, who can testify and whether McCahren should be tried as an adult.
Hughes County Judge John Brown rejected defense attorneys' efforts to have the case tried in juvenile court. Brown said McCahren's history of aggressive and violent behavior warranted adult court, calling his past behavior "reckless, impulsive and violent."
Brown has ruled on several motions in recent months, including suppressing McCahren's past criminal history and the number of autopsy and shooting scene photos jurors will be allowed to see. He's also ruled that the family of the victim could wear buttons that feature Williams' face on their clothing at the trial.
Community members, police and mental health experts will all testify on the events of that afternoon, as will the other teen present at the shooting, identified in court papers only as T.Y. A teenager who McCahren roomed with briefly at a juvenile service center in Rapid City and who he allegedly with him about the case will also testify.
T.Y., the critical witness for the case, was 16 at the time of the shooting. He told police shortly after Williams' death that the boys had picked up Williams at his house after school before going back to McCahren's. Once back, the teenager said he and McCahren got into an argument about a paintball game and began to "wrestle around jokingly."
It was then that McCahren went to the front door of the house, T.Y. said, and got the shotgun. T.Y. said McCahren pointed the gun at him and he heard a click. McCahren went to a drawer to get a shotgun shell and loaded the gun before again pointing it at T.Y., he said.
The witness told police Williams stepped between him and McCahren and the gun fired, hitting Williams in the chest.
McCahren's former attorneys argued at a hearing last year that McCahren had not tried to shoot anyone and that the gun was fired accidentally.
Williams' death drew heavy news coverage in Pierre and the trial was moved to Winner to improve the chances of an impartial jury.
Mike Moore, the special prosecutor trying McCahren, said however the trial ends, it'll bring closure to the community.
"I think both Pierre and the family of the victim will be glad to have the case going and to be finally decided one way or another," he said.
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