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|Photo by Emma Delk| Niyajah Hales speaks to defense attorneys on the first day of Michael J. Jackson’s murder trial.

WHEELING – On the first day of Niyajah Hales’ trial in the 2021 death of Wheeling resident Michael J. Jackson, prosecutors presented jurors surveillance footage from the VooDoo Lounge on Wheeling Island, where Jackson was shot.

Hales, of Brooklyn, NY, is charged with first-degree murder for the shooting death of Jackson, which occurred early in the morning of January 28, 2021. The trial is being presided over by Ohio County District Judge Michael Olejasz.

Jackson was shot multiple times outside the Voodoo Lounge by a suspect identified by the Wheeling Police Department as Hales. Jackson later died at WVU Medicine Ruby Memorial Hospital from injuries sustained in the shooting.

Hales' boyfriend, Brian Steele, also of New York, was identified and arrested by the WPD shortly after the shooting. Steele pleaded guilty to reckless endangerment with a firearm for firing a shot into the Voodoo Lounge the night of Jackson's death and was sentenced to five years in prison in October 2021.

Footage from the night of the shooting was shown to jurors by Ohio County Assistant District Attorney Shawn Turak during questioning of the state's first witness, WPD Detective Dean Redinger. After being called to the shooting scene on Jan. 28, Redinger collected evidence and interviewed witnesses at the bar.

In her opening statements, Turak said the surveillance footage was the “most compelling evidence” to be seen during the trial. She noted that the video would show “four fundamental angles” of the altercation between Hales and Jackson that would demonstrate Hales' “unlawful, deliberate, wanton, premeditated, malicious killing of Michael Jackson.”

Defense attorney Braden Noon said in his opening statement that the footage instead shows the “story of a bar fight.” He noted that Hales' actions on Jan. 28 involved him “exercising his right to defend” himself and Steele after Jackson threw a beer bottle at the two, escalating the verbal altercation in the bar into physical violence.

Surveillance footage of the shooting shown to jurors included footage from cameras in the main bar area of ​​the Voodoo Lounge, the game room and outside the building's main entrance. During Redinger's testimony, footage from Spunky's Laundromat, which is across the street from the Voodoo Lounge, was also shown.

The first footage Turak showed, dated Jan. 28, came from the VooDoo Lounge. The video began with Hales sitting in the bar's poker room before a verbal altercation broke out between him and Jackson's friend Clint Lekanudos. Jackson then walked from the bar area into the gaming room and got into a verbal altercation with Hales.

Jackson removed himself from the situation and Steele approached Halesd and spoke with him. The owner of the VooDoo Lounge, Erick Brothers, then escorted Hales and Steele out of the bar.

Redinger said Hales and Steele returned to the bar to pick up Hales' phone. Hales realized he had left it behind after “checking his person.” Hales noticed patron Michael Biery hand Hales a phone while the two waited in the area between the VooDoo Lounge's exterior entrance and the bar's interior door to receive Hales' phone.

During cross-examination of Redinger by defense attorney Kevin Neiswonger, Detective Neiswonger confirmed that Biery gave Hales the wrong phone. After the incident, the WPD later collected Hales' phone from the bar.

In the footage from the VooDoo Lounge, Steele attempted to stop Hales from re-entering the bar. Lekanudos then got into another verbal argument with the two, which culminated in Jackson picking up a beer bottle and throwing it at Hales and Steele.

The bottle missed Hales and Steele and hit Brothers in the head. Redinger noted that Jackson then got into a physical altercation with Steele outside the bar. Surveillance footage from the bar showed the door to the VooDoo Lounge closing behind the three of them.

Turak then had Redinger determine how long the group remained outside in the VooDoo Lounge footage. Redinger said approximately 20 seconds passed before Redinger “came back into the bar limping and smoking a cigarette.” A bullet then entered the bar through the VooDoo Lounge's interior entrance, causing patrons to duck.

The jury was then shown surveillance footage from Spunky's Laundromat showing the shooting outside the VooDoo Lounge.

In the video, Hales is seen leaving the bar first, followed by Steele and Jackson, who were involved in a physical altercation. Redinger described Hales approaching Steele and Jackson from behind and firing a shot at Jackson's back.

As Turak reviewed the footage from Spunky's Laundromat, he had Redinger count the four shots fired during the altercation.

After the surveillance footage was presented, an interview between Hales and WPD Detective Robert Agostino was played after his arrest in May 2023. In the tape, Hales confirmed that he did not know Jackson before January 28.

In the tape, Hales also stated that on January 28, after his initial verbal altercation with Lekanudos, he returned to the bar to get his phone, adding that he “never looks for trouble” and had “nothing to say” to the police officers as he would have to “say it in court.”

During his cross-examination, Neiswonger had Redinger confirm that although Steele and Hales had been involved in a “heated verbal discussion” with Lekanudos, they left the bar “without incident” when Brothers escorted him out.

Neiswonger then questioned Redinger about whether “three to four” bar patrons confronted Hales and Steele when they returned to the bar to pick up Steele's phone.

“I don't know if they (the bar guests) confronted him, but Lekanudos did,” Redinger replied.

Redinger then confirmed to Neiswonger that Jackson's throwing of the beer bottle was the “first act of physical violence” on January 28. When Neiswonger asked Redinger who he thought Jackson was trying to hit with the bottle, Redinger stated that Jackson was targeting “either Hales or Steele, not Brothers.”

The trial continues today.



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