Farrow jurors hear contrasting arguments
HUNTINGTON -- Jurors heard Quazaa Farrow described as both a murderer and a peacemaker, polarizing portrayals of a Maryland native at the center of a July 2012 family dispute of sorts involving a dog and the shooting death of his friend, Mikeal Branch.
The July 5, 2012, incident quickly led police to charge Farrow, 22, with murder and started a nearly month-long manhunt that tracked him to Fort Wayne, Indiana.
Witnesses testified Thursday that the shooting stemmed from Farrow's decision to break up a verbal dispute between Branch and others living at the crime scene, 1243 18th St. in Huntington. The disagreement concerned allegations that Branch tried to trade the family dog for marijuana.
Farrow, not involved in the initial dispute, walked onto the family's property, placed his hand on Branch's shoulder and urged his friend to leave. That caused Branch, already agitated, to yell obscenities and push Farrow into the nearby porch. The murder suspect responded with a single, quick gunshot striking Branch in the abdomen. The 26-year-old died at the scene.
Farrow's attorneys admit their client fired the fatal shot, but insist he did so in self-defense, believing Branch was armed with a knife.
"It all boils down to Quazaa was in fear for his own safety," Greg Howard said. "It's plain and simple. It's not a case about drugs, it's not a case about race, it's a case about a fight over a dog."
Jurors could hear Farrow's personal account as early as Friday, June 6, when his trial resumes before Cabell Circuit Judge Alfred Ferguson. Farrow faces the potential of life in prison if jurors convict him of first-degree murder. A verdict could come Friday evening.
Argument before shooting
The shooting happened about 2 a.m. amid an otherwise celebratory night of drinking alcohol and shooting fireworks for Independence Day. The mood soured with Jan Oldaker's arrival from work and her concern as to the whereabouts of the family's dog, a white American bulldog.
Oldaker and her son, Jonathan Blackwell, testified a search led to Blackwell finding the dog with Branch at a nearby house. Blackwell returned with the dog and led others to believe Branch had been trying to sell it for marijuana.
Oldaker testified she quickly confronted Branch calling him a thief. That initiated a verbal exchange between Blackwell and Branch that included threats of a fist fight, but no physical contact occurred with Oldaker and her fiance of nine years, Jason Huizar, keeping the two men separated.
Blackwell testified the argument calmed with Huizar walking upstairs and threatening to hurt Branch, perhaps even shoot him, if he laid a hand on the then 17-year-old.
Farrow entered the yard a short time later, placed his hand on Branch's shoulder and told him it was neither the place nor the time for such a dispute, Blackwell testified. The two men exchanged words with Oldaker testifying as to Branch's use of a racial slur. It was about that time both testify Farrow pulled a handgun from his waistband, received a shove from Branch and fired his weapon.
"He dropped at my feet," she testified of Branch. "He tried to crawl to me, while I was sitting on the porch, and he collapsed."
Defense attorney Michael Bailey quickly attacked Oldaker's credibility. He accused Oldaker of having told at least four versions of her the story, including a defense affidavit signed and notarized with her stating that Branch brandished a knife in arguments that night with her son and Farrow.
Oldaker admitted to having provided statements in the defense affidavit, but testified she did so in response to pressure applied by Farrow's girlfriend in Charleston. Oldaker also told Bailey on Thursday she willingly lied at his office in an effort to protect Farrow, whom she still cared for like a son.
"I didn't want anyone to go to jail or prison over this, and that's why I said the things that I did," she testified in response to a question by assistant prosecutor Kellie Neal.
Oldaker testified her only lie within the defense affidavit involved Branch having brandished a knife. She affirmed its other statements, including her eyewitness account believing Farrow fired the single gunshot as a warning, testifying it struck Branch's side as jumped at the sight of a gun.
Blackwell also was unaware the gunshot hit Branch's body until Branch reached for his side and asked for someone to call 911. He and his mother also testified Farrow rode away in a maroon sport-utility vehicle after the shooting. A U.S. Marshal, testifying at a pretrial hearing Monday, told the court Farrow stayed at an Ashland-area motel for some time, after which unverified reports pointed to him seeking refuge in Atlanta before being tracked down in Fort Wayne.
Howard, in his opening statement, told jurors his client wishes he had stayed at the scene. His chose to flee thinking Huizar, Oldaker and the family would cover up the incident as a drive-by shooting. Farrow believed he could visit Branch at the hospital and smooth things over.
"He internally freaked out," Howard told jurors. "Quazaa will tell you that a million things were running through his head."
Branch, a Florida native, had been renting a room at 1243 18th St., where Oldaker and Huizar lived with her children and at least one other man renting a room at the residence. Neal told jurors he had been trying to work out some personal problems in his life, including custody and visitation issues with a son.
Farrow has lived in Huntington for six years, Howard told jurors during his opening argument. He further described Farrow as having ties to the community with his grandmother residing locally for 60 years. Farrow's mother was joined by other family and friends in supporting him with their attendance Thursday. They declined comment at Farrow's request.
Follow reporter Curtis Johnson at Facebook.com/curtisjohnsonHD and via Twitter @curtisjohnsonHD.
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