Benjamin Allen, accused of shooting 17-year-old Elijah Rizvan to death in front of 7 Westford Lane in Palm Coast almost two years ago, will go on trial on a first-degree murder charge on May 24 before Circuit Judge Terence Perkins at the Flagler County courthouse.
But a plea deal is still possible, if unlikely.
Perkins set the trial date at a docket sounding hearing this afternoon, with Allen, who was 16 at the time of the killing–he is now 18–appearing by video from the Flagler County jail, where he’s been held since the day of the shooting.
Allen faces life in prison if convicted. Last October, he rejected an offer from the state to serve 30 years with the possibility of early release after 25, which, combined with the time he’s already served, would have made him eligible to be out of prison by age 42.
Allen is accused of shooting Rizvan with a .380-caliber firearm during what was to be a deal for marijuana, according to his arrest report. Rizvan was on Westford Lane when a silver Ford Focus drove up and two black males stepped out. One or both of them–the specifics are not clear–grabbed Rizvan by the arms and one of them shot him in the chest. The two males got back in the car and sped off.
No one else has been arrested in the case. The investigation included interviews of three individuals detectives described as witnesses in the case, placing the total number of people in the Ford, when it drove up to Westford, at four. The three witnesses all told police that Allen wanted to buy marijuana from Rizvan. Two of the witnesses told detectives that Allen approached Rizvan and shot him in the chest. The third witness said he was near the trunk area of the car when he saw Allen grab Rizvan, demand the drugs, then shoot him. One of the witnesses dropped Allen off at his home in Tidelands in Palm Coast and drove back to 126 Island Estates Parkway.
In his interview with detectives, Allen conceded that he’d traveled to the W Section with the three witnesses, but denied being involved in the shooting. His rejection of the plea deal suggests that his defense attorney, Gerald Bettman, will likely seek to absolve his client of the crime and place the blame for the shooting on one of the three witnesses, arguing that the three worked out their story ahead of time in order to put the blame on Allen: the three were together after dropping Allen off and until they were contacted by law enforcement. They are all expected to take the witness stand.
The prosecution does not appear to have surveillance footage that captured the shooting from such things as Ring doorbells or other home-based surveillance. It has video footage of the car driving on the toll bridge across the Intracoastal, it has the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s firearms report (one of its witnesses will be Christopher Rishel, a ballistics analyst with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement), and it has the statements from various witnesses, among other evidence that will be presented at trial. But it isn’t clear if it has direct evidence other than witnesses that may place the firearm in Allen’s hands at the time of the shooting. The state in its case lists four witnesses in a confidential filing to the court, since they are considered murder eyewitnesses.
There may yet be a plea deal: “Mr. Bettman and I have been talking,” Assistant State Attorney Jennifer Dunton said today in court. When Dunton told the judge that the trial date would work “unless something’s changed”–she hinting at negotiations with Bettman, Bettman said: “It may not be as easy as that.” So the two sides may yet be far apart.
Dunton expects a four-day trial, including jury selection, which would take most or all of the first day. It will be a 12-person jury, drawn from pools that, because of covid-safety regulations, lawyers will speak with in batches of 25 potential jurors at a time, not the usual 50. That could double the time it takes to seat a jury. (All those in the courtroom will be required to be masked at all times.)
Though almost two years old–the murder took place on July 12, 2019–the case has been unusually free of any pre-trial motions by either the prosecution or the defense. But Bettman said today there may be a motion to suppress, based on what came to light today.
“I just learned today that she was using portions of a video that includes my client without being Mirandized,” Bettman said, referring to Dunton. “His parents were there, at least his mother and a friend were there. So I don’t know how the tape is going to look. I don’t want any statements by the parents, or the adults. I don’t know how you chop that up.” But it’ll be up to Perkins, the judge, to decide whether to suppress that evidence or not.
“We’re going to pick a jury and we’re going to go, so if you want something to be heard, let’s get it heard before we start picking our jurors at 8:30 on Monday morning,” the judge said.
Allen stood in front of the camera throughout the brief discussion all but invisibly: he said nothing, and was not addressed by the judge or the lawyers.
The Allen case was one of two murder cases Perkins scheduled for trial today. The other is that of Marion Gavins Jr., who is accused of shooting and killing Curtis Gray, 18, in April 2019 outside a Palm Coast smoke shop off Belle Terre Parkway. That case is set for docket sounding on Sept. 8, and trial for Sept. 27.