James Abney Jr.
James Abney Jr.

A York City man locked up for more than a year on drive-by shooting charges could be released from prison very soon, his attorney said.

"I've maintained my client's innocence from the very beginning," attorney George N. Marros said. "It comes down to the fact that there was no evidence to suggest my client ever possessed a weapon or fired at anybody."

All charges against James Dennis Abney Jr. -- two counts each of attempted homicide and aggravated assault and one count of conspiracy to commit aggravated assault -- were withdrawn Wednesday by the York County District Attorney's Office.

"We withdrew the charges because of a complete and total lack of cooperation from any ... witnesses who were there," chief deputy prosecutor Dave Sunday said. "No one wants to talk to us."

Marros had filed a motion asking that charges be dismissed. The motion claimed prosecutors took too long to take Abney to trial.

But Marros said the judge didn't have to consider the defense motion because Sunday withdrew the charges.

The allegations: York City Police had alleged Abney was a passenger in a vehicle driven by Ronald Anthony Payton III during a 6:45 p.m. Sept. 4, 2012, drive-by shooting in the 100 block of Stevens Avenue.

When gunfire erupted, teenagers Destane Callistro and Shaquille Ennis suffered gunshot wounds but survived, police said. They were three-quarters of a block away from the incident, according to police.

At Abney's preliminary hearing, Callistro testified that her sister and Abney have children together.

Abney suffered a gunshot wound to the shoulder during the shooting, police said.

Marros said his client was in the area to visit his daughter, who lives nearby.

Sunday said he doesn't believe that's the case.

"I have no doubt ... he was shooting from the car," Sunday said of Abney. "But my feelings aren't evidence in a court case."

Federal detainer: For now, Abney, 27, of York City, remains in York County Prison on a federal probation detainer.

Marros said he hopes Abney will be released within 48 to 72 hours of his drive-by shooting charges being withdrawn.

Abney's co-defendant, 21-year-old Payton, of York City, pleaded guilty Aug. 1 to carrying a firearm without a license during the drive-by shooting; in exchange, charges of attempted homicide and aggravated assault were dismissed.

He pleaded guilty to the same charge in an unrelated robbery case and was sentenced to a total of three to six years in state prison for both cases, defense attorney Scott McCabe has said.

Witness: Police said eyewitness Donald Layton Jr. initially told officers he saw Abney fire a gun that night on Stevens Avenue, and also saw a second man shooting from inside the vehicle.

But at Abney's preliminary hearing a month later, Layton denied he made the statement and suggested police put words in his mouth.

Two days before the Stevens Avenue shootout, Layton was one of two men beaten and boot-stomped during a large fight in the parking lot of Five Guys Burgers and Fries along Route 30.

Police said the fracas was sparked by the feud between the city's Parkway and south-side gangs, as was the drive-by shooting.

Two people were shot during the Route 30 melee; one was critically injured.

-- Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at levans@yorkdispatch.com.