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Teen accused of killing UNF employee in court

Prosecutors say teen followed stepbrother's orders in killing Joe Brenton

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A 17-year-old accused of murder in the shooting death of a University of North Florida employee appeared in a Duval county courtroom Wednesday morning. 

Dakarai Maxwell, who has pleaded not guilty, is being tried as an adult in the case.

Maxwell is charged with shooting Joe Brenton, 48, at Brenton's Oceanway home in October, just hours before Brenton was slated to testify in court against Maxwell’s stepbrother, Jecorian McCray.

McCray is awaiting trial for breaking into Brenton’s home in 2014.

Investigators said McCray ordered Maxwell to silence Brenton.

Maxwell's father told News4Jax after the arraignment that he believes his son is innocent of the murder charges.

"I went through his phone. I went through his Facebook," Maxwell's father said. He said there was no evidence to show his son was involved in the crime. He said there were criminal issues at the Brenton home, but News4Jax checked police records and found no calls to the home in the past two years since the burglary.

The State Attorney's Office said it has more than a dozen discs filled with evidence to review before the trial proceeds.

Gene Nichols, an attorney not affiliated with the case, said Maxwell’s attorney will likely point a lot of the blame elsewhere.

“They’re going to put as much as they can on McCray,” Nichols said. “As much as you can deflect from your own client in any case such as this, you’re going to want to do. That being said, again what happened at that house and whether or not there was an altercation or incident that led to the death of the victim.”

McCray, 23, is also charged with Brenton's murder and is being held without bond. He pleaded not guilty to those charges.

Brenton was found dead inside his home on VC Johnson Road just before 3 a.m.

According to court records, Brenton and his wife were due to testify later that day at the trial of McCray, who is accused of burglarizing the home, which is on a dead-end road north of Dunn Avenue.

Detectives investigating the homicide listened to jail recordings of McCray talking on the phone with Maxwell, and heard them talking about getting McCray's 21-year-old girlfriend, Teirany Shelton, to visit the Brentons and ask him to take back his statements about the burglary because McCray was "looking at 30 years."

"When he learned the bribery didn't work (Tuesday night), he told Dakarai that he needed to kill him," Lt. Steve Gallaher said. "He walked Dakarai step-by-step through the process of how to kill him. In the morning, the murder occurred, just like he was instructed to do."

Acting on information in those recordings, police obtained arrest warrants charging McCray and Maxwell with murder, 19-year-old Demetris Ford with criminal conspiracy and Shelton with tampering with a witness.

"He convinced them that they needed to convince the Brentons to either change their story or not testify," Gallaher said. 

Prosecutors said home surveillance video showed McCray and Maxwell, who were acquaintances of Brenton's daughter, inside the home Jan. 29. According to the police report, jewelry, checks and prescription painkillers were taken in the burglary.

A jury for McCray's trial was seated but a mistrial motion was granted after Brenton's slaying.