Detroit Prosecutor Says Proof's Killer Sparked Fatal April Gunfight

Mario Etheridge faces nine years behind bars on felony weapons charges.

Opening arguments were presented on Monday inside Michigan's Wayne County Circuit Court in the trial of Mario Etheridge, the man accused in the April 11 shooting death of D12 rapper Proof during a heated altercation at Detroit's CCC nightclub.

While Etheridge was not charged with Proof's slaying, he is standing trial on felony weapons charges, and prosecutors placed some of the blame for the fatal shootout in the 28-year-old bouncer's hands.

According to police, Proof, who was born DeShaun Holton, shot Keith Bender Jr. in the face following an argument inside the after-hours club. Police claim Bender's cousin, Etheridge, who was working security at the club that night, responded by shooting Proof — who was 32 years old at the time of his death — once in the head and twice in the chest. Proof was pronounced dead not long after the incident, and Bender, who was 35, clung to life for one week before his passing (see "D12's Proof Shot And Killed At Detroit Club" and "Man Allegedly Shot By D12's Proof Dies").

The Detroit Free Press reports that Wayne County Assistant Prosecutor Elizabeth Walker told jurors on Monday that Proof and Bender had been fistfighting inside the club, but that it was Etheridge who escalated the situation by bringing guns into the mix when he fired two rounds at the ceiling to quash the fracas. Not long after, Proof pulled out a gun and fired on Bender, she said.

Etheridge's attorney, Randall Upshaw, countered that his client was trying to protect the club's patrons when he fired at the ceiling — and later, at Proof, according to the Free Press.

Etheridge was charged on April 14 with carrying a concealed weapon and discharge of a firearm in a dwelling or occupied structure, both felonies (see "Proof Shooting Suspect Charged — But Not With Murder"). If convicted, he faces up to nine years behind bars. Prosecutors declined to pursue murder charges against Etheridge, finding that he had acted in self-defense and in defense of his fallen cousin (see "Prosecutor Says Proof's Slaying Was Justified").

Four witnesses to the incident were called to testify on Monday and Tuesday; three of them appeared to struggle with recalling the night's events and statements they had made to police in the wake of the shooting. All, though, agreed that Proof first fought with another man before engaging Bender. The witnesses also testified that Proof had spent the night traveling from bar to bar, drinking heavily and getting into arguments, according to the Free Press.

One witness, Andre Boyd, told the court that Proof's first argument was heated, and then recounted how the rapper later fought with Bender. He also said that a large man, who he failed to identify as Etheridge, shot three rounds at the ceiling.

Tony Watkins, who identified himself as Proof's roommate and personal assistant, testified that he has no idea how Proof got the gun he used to shoot Bender, adding that the only gun he knew was present was located in a car parked outside the club and belonged to a member of the rapper's entourage that evening. The Free Press reports that Watkins claimed Bender and Proof were pulled apart before the fighting intensified, but that matters were made worse when Bender "took an open swing at [Proof]." Bender's fingertip, Watkins explained, brushed across Proof's forehead, and "that's when Proof got into a rage trying to get at the guy."

Testimony was expected to continue Wednesday morning (September 20), and closing arguments could come as early as Wednesday afternoon.

Last month, Bender's family filed a lawsuit against Proof's estate. The suit, which seeks unspecified damages, claims Proof is liable for attacking and critically wounding Bender during the April incident (see "Proof Liable For Shooting Death, Lawsuit Claims").