Man charged with murdering 7-year-old Jazmine Barnes in case of ‘mistaken identity’

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A 20-year-old man has been charged with capital murder for allegedly shooting 7-year-old Jazmine Barnes in Houston last month. Barnes was in the back seat of her mother’s car when a vehicle pulled up alongside and opened fire on Dec. 30.

The Harris County Sheriff’s Office said early Sunday that Eric Black Jr. was arrested without incident after a tip and subsequently admitted to the shooting.

Black was pulled over by police on Jan. 5 for making a lane change without signaling and marijuana was found in his vehicle, according to Black’s initial appearance before a judge at 5 a.m. local time. During the hearing, it was revealed an anonymous informant emailed the sheriff’s office in early January and said two people with the initials “EB” and “LW” had committed the shooting. Black’s name was found through social media and identified as a suspect.

After Black was taken in for the signal and drug violations, he was interviewed by homicide detectives and admitted to driving the rental vehicle that opened fire on Barnes’ car. He also told police he had the pistol at his home, which matched shell casings found at the scene of Barnes’ shooting.

A second man, Larry Woodruffe, 24, has also been taken into custody, the Barnes family’s lawyer, Lee Merritt, confirmed. Woodruffe is “believed to be the shooter,” according to Merritt.

While Barnes’ mother, LaPorsha Washington, said she believed the shooting was racially motivated, the sheriff’s office said Sunday the shooting instead appears to be a case of mistaken identity.

“I am grateful to our dedicated investigators, the partner law enforcement agencies that provided vital assistance, and tipsters from across the nation who pulled together to support our work to get justice for Jazmine,” Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said. “Our work is not finished, but I believe the people of Harris County can take comfort in knowing we have made great progress.”

Merritt explained the discrepancy in the police sketch and suspects arrested, saying, “Larry Woodruffe doesn’t fit the description offered by the 4 different witness statements or composite sketch. Accordingly, this tip was difficult to believe. Assuming the confession elicited is reliable— it is possible the previously identified suspect seen fleeing by several independent witnesses was a bystanader (sic) attempting to escape the shooting.”

Authorities had said late Saturday they were interviewing “persons of interest” in the high-profile murder.

Washington was shot in the shoulder and subsequently treated and released. Washington’s other children in the car were uninjured.

Law enforcement officers had previously described the suspect as a white man driving a red pickup truck, and a reward for information about the shooter was raised this week to $100,000. However, Harris County Sheriff’s Office tweeted late Saturday that, “The Jazmine Barnes Homicide investigation has taken a new direction.”

Houston ABC station KTRK reported the red pickup truck was actually not involved in the shooting.

“We didn’t do anything wrong to this man. It was something in his mind that he had planned on doing beforehand,” Washington said during a news conference on Thursday afternoon. “This is something that I believe was a hate crime.”

“I don’t know if he’s out there sick, you know, doing this because he’s getting off to it or whatever it is,” said LaPorsha Washington, who suffered a bullet wound to the left arm in the unprovoked shooting while trying to shield her oldest daughter, Alexis Dilbert, 15. “But he’s taking innocent lives and that’s not fair. It’s not right.”

During Thursday’s news conference, Alxis said she briefly saw the gunman and described him as white with blue eyes and wearing a black hoodie. She said he did not have a beard or glasses as some media outlets have reported.

“It was like a look into his car. You know like you’re driving and you just look into somebody’s car and make eye contact and look back,” Alxis said of seeing the gunman.

The case has also prompted celebrities to get involved in supporting Jazmine’s family and helping in the hunt for the killer.

DeAndre Hopkins, a wide receiver for the Houston Texans football team, pledged Thursday to donate his playoff game check this Saturday to pay for Jazmine’s funeral. Hopkins stands to earn about $29,000 from the playoff game against the Indianapolis Colts.

“I have a 5-year-old daughter. It could have been anybody in that position on this team … anybody in this city. … It’s unfortunate,” Hopkins told Houston ABC station KTRK.

Actresses Gabrielle Union and Olivia Wilde also spread the word on social media about the hunt for the killer. “Find him. This evil monster,” Union tweeted.
Wilde also took to Twitter, writing, “Please help find this murderer if you can.”

Meanwhile, Jazmine’s mother pleaded with the killer to give himself up.

“I feel like it’s not going to be no amount of money,” she said of the reward. “It’s going to have to be him. His heart is going to finally get to him. His conscience is finally going to get to him. After he sees my child’s face go across his TV so many times, he’s going to turn himself in.”

ABC News’ Gina Sunseri contributed to this report.

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