Trial begins for Dover man in fatal shooting of Clayton man

Timothy Safford

DOVER — Did Timothy L. Safford try to protect his longtime friend from trouble before a fatal shooting at Liberty Court Apartments two years ago?

Or did the 44-year-old first-degree murder defendant discharge the rounds that felled Sylvester Lee on June 22, 2018?

Opposing attorneys presented mostly diverging accounts during opening statements Tuesday afternoon in a Superior Court trial scheduled to run two weeks. Mr. Safford has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder and two other felonies he’s charged with.

Mr. Lee, 41 at the time, died after being shot five times near a vehicle in the west Dover neighborhood he was visiting after work on a Friday night, police investigation found. There were more than 50 people in the area at the time and most scattered following the gunfire, according to defense attorney Adam Windett.

Mr. Safford was among those who fled and he was taken into custody in Washington D.C. on June 22, 2018, Dover Police said.

Deputy Attorney General Stephen R. Welch said witnesses saw Mr. Safford and Mr. Lee (a Clayton resident, police said) walking to the vehicle just prior to several shots being fired. Evidence would show that a semi-automatic weapon was fired and four 9mm bullets were located, he said.

“(There were) a number of people who saw and heard what happened that night,” said Mr. Welch, who is prosecuting the case with DAG Lisa Whitelock.

While the prosecution said evidence would prove Mr. Safford pulled the trigger, Mr. Windett described the defendant as innocent and pointed to another man who witnesses said had fired a gun that night. That gun was a revolver, though, according to Mr. Welch.

According to the defense, Mr. Safford protected Mr. Lee from several altercations during the night before shots were fired. Both attorneys indicated that Mr. Lee was heavily intoxicated at the time and had smoked marijuana.

Mr. Welch said people heard Mr. Lee and Mr. Safford arguing, saying things such as “Get the (expletive) out of my car,” and “Don’t call me stupid.”

Mr. Windett said Mr. Safford was not found with a gun, and that there was no DNA, fingerprint or gunshot residue linking him to the shooting death. He told the jury that the case would rely heavily on the credibility of witness testimony.

Mr. Safford is also charged with possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony and possession of a firearm by person prohibited.

Judge Noel Eason Primos is overseeing the jury trial.