By John R. Ellement and Andrew Ryan, Globe Staff
CAMBRIDGE -- A "drug rip" over a pound of marijuana and $1,000 in cash led to the fatal shooting this week of a man inside a residence hall at Harvard University, according to Middlesex District Attorney Gerard T. Leone Jr.
The victim, Justin Cosby, 21, had been selling drugs to students at Harvard and went to Kirkland House on Monday afternoon with the marijuana and money, Leone said today at a press conference at Cambridge police headquarters. Three men traveled to Cambridge from New York City with the intention of robbing Cosby and the scheme "went bad," he said.
One of the men, Jabrai Jordan Copney, 20, pleaded not guilty to a first-degree murder charge this morning in Cambridge District Court in Medford and was ordered held without bail.
"My client is shell shocked by these developments," defense attorney J.W. Carney Jr. told reporters after the arraignment. "My client is not guilty of first-degree murder."
Authorities said the two other men returned to New York City and remain at large.
"The common denominator that led to the intent to rip-off Justin Cosby of both money and drugs was that Justin and Jordan were known to each other through Harvard students," Leone said.
Authorities did not release the names of the two female students at Harvard who were the nexus between Cosby and Copney. They have not been charged with a crime. Copney's longtime girlfriend is a senior at the university slated to graduate in June, according to Carney.
Police recovered one pound of marijuana and $1,000 in cash near where Cosby was shot and have also found a handgun of the same variety used in the shooting, Leone said. Ballistic tests have not yet been completed to determine whether it was the weapon that fired the fatal shot.
During this morning's arraignment, Assistant District Attorney Daniel J. Bennett said that a witness told police they saw Copney wearing a distinct orange and black jacket and running across the Harvard campus with a gun in his hand. Copney and the two other men rushed to another nearby residence hall, Lowell House, where they met another person and allegedly hid the gun. Authorities did not release the name of the person they met, describing them only as a "witness."
"After the violence, Copney tells a witness there was a fight and there was a shooting," Bennett said this morning in court.
Copney and the two other men then went to South Station and took a bus back to New York City, Bennett said. Since the shooting, Copney has traveled twice back and forth between Boston and New York City.
Copney arrived again in Boston on Thursday with his mother and sister, Carney said, retained an attorney, and turned himself in to Cambridge police at about 7 p.m.
Copney has been charged in connection with the killing but he has not been identified as the person who actually pulled the trigger. Because the other two men returned to New York City, there is not an ongoing security threat at Harvard, Leone said. Investigators are working with the New York City Police Department to apprehend the other two men.
Copney has no prior criminal history and lives with his sister and mother in New York City, according to Carney. His father is a retired New York City police officer and his mother is a current New York City employee. In 2007, Copney graduated from a performing arts high school in New York City but he chose to forgo college to pursue a career as a songwriter, Carney said.
Writing music is "both a dream and a reality for this young man," Carney said, adding that his client has secured a contract to record an album of his own material. Copney often travels to Harvard to visit his longtime girlfriend, Carney said.
Prosecutors allege that a Harvard student gave an electronic swipe card needed to enter the dorm to the men involved in the shooting. The card was used at Kirkland House at 4:46 p.m. on Monday, Bennett said during the arraignment.
Cosby's mother, Denise, did not return calls to her home on Thursday, but the family issued a statement defending the reputation of her son, a 2005 graduate of Cambridge Rindge and Latin School.
"He was not a 'hoodlum' or 'gangster,' " the family said. "Justin was a fashion trendsetter, basketball player, student, and self-admitted 'mama's boy.' He was looking forward to picking up new studies ... and marrying his longtime girlfriend."
According to court records, Cosby had at least one minor brush with law enforcement when he was arrested by Cambridge police in 2007 and charged with possession of marijuana after a small plastic bag and two marijuana cigarettes were found in his car. The drug possession charge was continued without a finding and then dismissed in June 2008 because Cosby had no new arrests during that time, records show.
A private wake and funeral service will be held for Cosby on Saturday. Nearly a dozen Harvard students interviewed on Thursday said they do not believe drugs are a pervasive problem on campus, just an element of undergraduate life and something nonusers could easily ignore, until this week.
"People make personal choices, and as long as they don't harm other people, they can do whatever they want," said Alan Ibrahim, a sophomore and a resident of Kirkland House who attended high school with Cosby but did not know him. "But to actually see something go bad, it's really frightening."
On the beat
Columnist Adrian Walker says UMass Dartmouth is shaken after revelations that one of the Marathon bomb suspects was a student there. Read more