By Jeff Mays and Murray Weiss
HARLEM — Police have identified two men they say murdered 18-year-old basketball star Tayshana Murphy and another who passed them the gun, NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly said Monday.
Robert Cartagena, 20, and Tyshawn Brockington, 21, allegedly shot Murphy three times in the chest, hip and arm as she ran from them inside the Grant Houses Sunday morning, Kelly said during a press conference at Police Headquarters.
As Murphy was chased into the fourth floor of the building, where she lived with her family, witnesses said they could hear her begging for her life, telling the gunman that she was "not involved" in whatever dispute was going on.
A third suspect, Terique Collins, 24, was arrested at his apartment in the Manhattanville Houses on Monday night, Kelly said. He was seen by eyewitnesses passing a gun to the shooters before the incident, police sources said. Surveillance video from the Grant Houses that night showed Cartagena and Brockington with guns in their waistbands, Kelly said Monday. Eyewitnesses said Collins' gun was the murder weapon. Sources said he denied involvement.
Collins was released from prison last February after serving only a year and a half of a possible three and a half year term for selling crack to undercover cops, police sources said.
He was arrested again on May 12 for smoking marijuana outside the Grant Houses, and was due in Manhattan court Wednesday, according to court records.
Family members and police sources said Murphy's murder appears to be part of a long-running feud between the Grant Houses and Manhattanville Houses. Cartagena and Brockington may have been part of a youth gang from the Manhattanville Houses called "Step Up," while Murphy's brother — known on the streets as "Bam Bam" — may have been part of a rival crew from the Grant Houses, said a source familiar with the rivalry.
Relatives said they feared Murphy's brother had become caught up in a feud that led to her death. People from the Grant Houses said Murphy's brother may have been involved in an earlier altercation with some members of the Manhattanville crew, and that they came back to retaliate the night of the murder.
"He's involved with the beef going on," Murphy's cousin, Pierre Walton, 21 said of the shooting. "They couldn't find her brother so they took it out on her."
Police sources said they do not believe that Murphy was directly involved in the feud. Her body was still being held at the city morgue Tuesday evening.
"There's not a real penalty that you can give for someone who did this, but he needs to suffer," a friend Jazmin Colbert, 20, Whoever filed the fatal bullet, "needs to sit in jail forever and think about what he did."
"It flares up every six months or so," said Rev. Vernon Williams the president of the Harlem Clergy Community Leaders Coalition who often mediates disputes between young people on the streets of Harlem to prevent them from turning violent.
"Grant hits Manhattanville and then Manhattanville hits back harder. It's like a points thing. They probably don't even know the cause because its been going on for so long."
The exact origin of the dispute isn't clear, but many in the neighborhood believe it's partially based on territorial disputes over the sale of narcotics. The building on Broadway where Murphy was killed is a known drug hot spot.
Others say it is simply fighting back and forth between rival "crews" that has been going on for years without end — a phenomenon which is not uncommon in Harlem.
Neighborhood "crews" from various public housing projects or blocks are often involved in disputes that have led to murders and broad daylight shootings.
"It's just one whole projects vs the other whole projects. It's territorial," said Murphy's friend Raichelle Thompson-Pressley, 22.
"People were scared for their lives every day. What happened to Tayshana could have happened to anyone from 18 to 24 (years old) in those projects. It could have been any kid from those projects dead right now," she said.
Murphy's friends echoed the sentiment.
"There was no reason this should have been brought to her," said Murphy's friend, Kimani Jackson, 16.
A senior at Murry Bergtraum High School for Business Careers in lower Manhattan, Murphy was affectionately known as "Chicken," because she was bowlegged.
Several colleges had already begun recruiting the teen, one of the top-ranked high school point guards in the country, said her father Taylon Murphy, 42.
Tayshana Murphy made it clear that her goal was to play in the Women's National Basketball Association so that she could help her family and give back to the neighborhood where she was brutally murdered.
The neighborhood is mourning Murphy's loss but it's not clear if her death will do anything to stop the back and forth violence between the two housing projects, said Thompson-Pressley.
"It'll simmer down for a month or two but I'm almost certain it will come back. If it stops, it'll be because she touched so many people," she said.
"It's tragic that she had to be the example."
Shayna Jacobs contributed reporting.