By Kevin Deutsch
BRONX SUPREME COURT – Jurors won’t get to hear a dramatic 911 call in which the sister of 5-year-old Jaheem Hunter frantically screams for help while driving him to the hospital with a bullet lodged in his head, a judge ruled Tuesday.
Unable to speak, walk, or breathe on his own in the weeks after the June 2017 shooting – which happened on his fifth birthday – the little boy fought valiantly to stay alive, making what his family called a “miraculous” recovery. Authorities credited the quick thinking of his sister, Aja Holmes, and father, Charles Hunter, who cradled the bleeding child en route to the hospital, with saving his life.
“They shot him!” Holmes cries in the 911 call, which was played publicly for the first time Tuesday during a pre-trial hearing. “The motherfu–ers shot him!”
“The baby’s shot, the baby’s shot!” yells Hunter.
Prosecutors wanted to play the five-minute 911 call for jurors as part of their case against Michael Quiles, 29, who allegedly fired at least four shots at a man during a feud over a drug deal – one of which penetrated Jaheem’s head. Quiles’ trial on attempted murder, assault, and weapon charges is expected to get underway as early as this week. He has pleaded not guilty.
While the recording of the 911 call was chilling, much of it was inaudible. Quiles’ attorney, Tania Brief of The Bronx Defenders, argued it should not be played for the jury, since witness testimony will provide the same information.
“I’ve heard a lot of 911 calls and this is about as hysterical as I’ve heard,” Bronx Supreme Court Justice Martin Marcus said before precluding the recording.
Jaheem, now 6, came within inches of death when the stray slug entered his head, officials said. He’d been standing outside his father’s Bronx building, waiting for Aja to ferry him to his birthday party, when the bullet struck him.
Hunter, holding pieces of his son’s skull and brain matter in his hands, cradled the boy’s head while Aja raced toward St. Barnabas Hospital, honking her horn all the way.
Jaheem stopped breathing in the car, and doctors surveying his injuries gave him little chance of survival.
Yet a few hours later, as Jaheem lay in a medically inducted coma, breathing with a ventilator, he began to move, his family said. From there his recovery progressed quickly; In a few months he was walking and talking, playing like a normal five-year-old again.
New York City lovingly embraced the boy, whose story garnered widespread media attention. He was honored by the New York Knicks, and lauded by police and government officials as a hero.
Nearly two years after being shot, his recovery continues. He’s undergone four major surgeries, has weakness in one of his hands, and one of his legs has a slight drag, according to Bronx Assistant District Attorney George Suminski.
“He still has these injuries to this day,” Suminski said in court Tuesday.
A key piece of evidence in the trial will be the bullet doctors removed from Jaheem’s head, which was handed to a nurse and later given to an NYPD detective, prosecutors said.
“A bullet in the street matches a bullet from Jaheem’s head,” Suminski said.
Quiles faces up to 25 years in prison if convicted on the top charge.