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Man sentenced to death for 2010 killing of Columbia rapper denied latest request for relief

LANCASTER COUNTY — A man sentenced to death for killing a hip-hop artist after a show in Columbia in 2010 has been denied his latest request for relief, according to the Lancaster County District Attorney’s Office.

Jakeem Towles was seeking a re-trial over the May 2010 killing of Cornell “Young E-Z” Stewart outside a Columbia concert venue.

Lancaster County Judge Howard F. Knisely issued his decision this week, rejecting Towles’ claims that his “ineffective” lawyers caused an improper guilty verdict to first-degree murder and death sentence in 2012.

On May 7, 2010, Towles opened fire on a group of people outside the North Fourth Street venue after Towles was ejected from the show for causing a fight.

Stewart, 20, was fatally shot in the head.

First Assistant District Attorney Christopher P. Larsen won the verdict. Assistant District Attorney Travis S. Anderson represents the Commonwealth in post-conviction matters.

Towles, now 29, challenged the jury’s verdicts by claiming his defense team was ineffective in several areas. Towles argued:

  • He wanted to testify. However, Judge Knisely wrote, Towles’ attorneys did not prevent him testifying. And if he did testify, he likely would not have been found credible; he lied even to his own attorneys months into the defense preparation. Also, the judge found, Towles’ testimony/statements of events would not align with the heat-of-passion defense asserted at trial; rather the version of events to which Towles testified at the post-conviction relief hearing “demonstrates murder with malice.”
  • Psychologist experts should have been called as witnesses. The doctors who interviewed and assessed Towles would not have been beneficial, Judge Knisely wrote. In fact, one doctor opined that Towles had the ability to form an intent to kill.
  • The attorneys did not properly cross-examine witness Antwain Robinson. Such tactics would have been harmful, according to the judge, because Robinson made statements about Towles getting a gun prior to the incident at the club – directly conflicting with a heat-of-passion defense strategy. A heat-of-passion defense is essentially a defense in which the defendant claims he was overwhelmed by a sudden, intense passion that caused him to lose his ability to reason. The events giving rise to the sudden, intense passion have to be such that they not only caused the defendant to lose his ability to reason, but they would also have caused a regular person to lose his ability to reason. Here, the judge found Towles’ testimony explained he had a logical explanation for all of his actions on the night of the shooting, and therefore it was clear his ability to reason was not overwhelmed and his actions were actually those of someone who acted with malice.

Towles also argued that jurors were struck from the panel due to gender – which the judge found “frivolous.”