NORRISTOWN — A Norristown man initially charged with homicide in connection with an alleged shooting between several men that left an innocent bystander dead in the crossfire has pleaded guilty to unlawful possession of a firearm during the incident.
Brandon Dontay Darden, 26, of the 300 block of Center Avenue, pleaded guilty in Montgomery County District Court to a felony charge of being a person not in possession of a firearm in connection with the Sept. 18, 2021, incident. Specifically, Darden admitted that he was found in possession of a firearm, even though a prior drug conviction prohibited him from possessing a weapon.
Judge William R. Carpenter, who accepted the plea agreement in the case, immediately sentenced Darden to five to 10 years in state prison.
Charges of first- and third-degree murder were dismissed against Darden.
Darden was originally charged with murder along with three other Norristown men, Edwin “Bam” Islas-Cruz, 23, Joshua M. Agudio Jr., 20, and Giovanni Islas, then 16. in connection with the shooting on September 18. in the 600 block of Astor Street, where 51-year-old Barry Fields, who was not involved in the shooting and was sitting on the front steps of his home, was killed.
“His guilt was related to a different set of circumstances than the circumstances surrounding the guilt of the other three defendants involved in this fatal shooting,” said Assistant District Attorney Samantha Kaufman, explaining the nature of Darden’s confession and the disposition of his case. “His guilty plea shows that he was there and illegally possessed a firearm.”
Darden’s trial was originally scheduled for a joint trial with Ilos Cruz and Agudio.
However, earlier this month, defense attorney Francis M. Walsh won a motion to sever Darden’s case, arguing that much of the evidence offered by prosecutors did not implicate Darden and that such evidence would unfairly prejudice Darden before a jury.
Walsh argued that the basis for the charges was the ill will that Agudio had with Islas Cruz’s friends, and that there was a risk that Darden would be harmed by the evidence presented against Islas Cruz and Agudio.
When Darden told the judge he was willing to accept a plea deal in which he pleaded guilty to the weapons charge, it appeared to go against the advice he had received from his attorney.
“I told him not to take the deal. It’s his decision, not mine,” said Walsh, who planned to argue in court that Darden did not have a gun when the shootout between the other men occurred.
While Darden settled his case by accepting a plea deal, he nonetheless appeared angry and uttered a profanity as he was escorted from the courtroom by sheriff’s deputies.
“Shit Montgomery. This is what you all do to innocent people. That’s it,” Darden told reporters when asked to comment on the outcome of his case.
Had Darden been tried on all charges, Kaufman and co-prosecutor Gwendolyn Kuhl were prepared to argue that Darden entered into the shootout and protracted the fight that ultimately led to Fields’ death.
Isolas Cruz, 100 block of West Fornans Street, and Agudio, 1000 block of Forest Avenue, have a joint court date of Oct. 17.
Authorities are still looking for Aylas from the block of West Basin Street. While Aylas was 16 at the time of the alleged shooting, he was charged as an adult due to the violent nature of the crime.
The men were charged with murder under the legal theory of so-called “transmitted intent,” which prosecutors use when a defendant allegedly intends to kill one person but instead inadvertently causes the death of a second, different person. Under state law, the intent goes from the intended victim to the actual victim.
The investigation began around 5:21 p.m. on Sept. 18, when Norristown police were dispatched to the 600 block of Astor Street after a 911 caller reported hearing about 20 gunshots. Responding officers found Fields dead and lying on the sidewalk in front of his home, according to a criminal complaint filed by County Detective William Mitchell Jr. and Norristown Detective Joshua Keenan.
Witnesses, video surveillance and physical evidence showed two men, Islas Cruz and Islas, drove up the block in a Toyota Camry, got out of the vehicle and started shooting north of Astar Street, where a group of men, including Agudio, had gathered, according to court records . According to court documents, the investigation revealed an ongoing dispute or “beef” between Islas Cruz and Agudio.
Two of the men hanging out in the area, identified as Agudio and Darden, returned fire, authorities initially alleged in court documents.
In court documents filed in June, prosecutors alleged that Darden hid behind a car during the shootout, but then re-engaged in the shootout at the end of the shooting.
After the line, the two men, who had pulled into the block, got back into a black Camry and sped away, according to court documents. The investigation revealed that Islas-Cruz was driving a borrowed Toyota Camry at the time of the shooting.
“Fields was sitting on the steps … when the shots rang out and was struck in the head during the exchange of fire,” Mitchell and Keenan wrote in an arrest affidavit.
During Fields’ autopsy, the medical examiner observed a single entry wound on the left side of the face that entered the left cheek and affected the brain stem, court documents state. A medical examiner found a shell casing and ruled the cause of death a single gunshot wound to the head and the cause of death a homicide.
Detectives found 39 spent 9-mm shell casings in the block