Crime

Lead detective analyzes text messages sent by Cameron Isaac in month leading up to Xiaopeng ‘Pippen’ Yuan’s death

Onondaga County Sheriff's Office

Cameron Isaac, left, and Ninimbe Mitchell, right, face murder charges in connection to the death of a Syracuse University student.

Cameron Isaac told a friend in a text message that he was “drawing up a play” weeks before he allegedly murdered Syracuse University student Xiaopeng “Pippen” Yuan.

“Drawing up a play” is informal terminology for planning a robbery, the lead detective in the case said Thursday during the murder trial of Isaac and Ninimbe Mitchell. That definition was disputed by the defense. The text message, which Isaac sent to his friend Mykell Ross, was made in reference to Isaac arranging to get two pounds of marijuana from Yuan.

Isaac, 24, is charged with first-degree murder in connection to Yuan’s death. Authorities allege that on Sept. 30 he robbed Yuan of two pounds of marijuana and subsequently killed him at the Springfield Garden Apartments complex in DeWitt. Mitchell, 20, is charged with second-degree murder, as prosecutors allege he acted as an accomplice to Isaac by driving him to and from the crime.

Laura Collins of the Onondaga County Sheriff’s Office, who served as the lead detective in the case, on Thursday discussed a series of text messages that Isaac sent to Yuan and friends in the month leading up to Yuan’s death. During Collins’ four-hour testimony, the prosecution also played a phone call Isaac made from jail to his girlfriend and showed video footage of a car allegedly being driven by Mitchell in DeWitt immediately before and after Yuan died.

Also testifying Thursday was the manager of a Cricket Wireless store where Mitchell is alleged to have purchased a phone for Isaac, just minutes after the murder is alleged to have occurred.

Yuan and Isaac began exchanging text messages about marijuana deals in August of last year, records presented Thursday revealed. Isaac first texted Yuan on Aug. 25 to inquire about picking up an eighth of marijuana. During that same conversation, Isaac told Yuan that he would buy 2 pounds at a later date for $6,800.

Two days later, Isaac again texted Yuan, this time to tell him to get the 2 pounds of marijuana as soon as he could. That same day, Isaac texted Ross that he was “drawing up a play” and to “be ready.” Collins said during her testimony that “drawing up a play” means preparing a robbery.

But during cross-examination of Collins, Isaac’s defense attorney, William Sullivan, argued that “drawing up a play” can simply mean to conduct a drug deal. He pointed to an Urban Dictionary page that defined the phrase “make a play” as such.

“Being a police officer for a nearly a decade, I’ve had my ways of decoding jargon from the streets,” Collins said.

Other phone records revealed that Isaac also texted Yuan on Aug. 28, Aug. 29, Sept. 1 and Sept. 4. Yuan then reached out to Isaac on Sept. 30, the text messages revealed, to inform him that he had received the 2 pounds of marijuana. From there, the two set up what Yuan believed to be a drug deal but what would instead lead to his alleged murder.

Video footage presented Thursday showed a black BMW — a car prosecutors say was driven by Mitchell — in areas near the Springfield Garden Apartments complex shortly before and after Yuan’s death.

The driver could be seen wearing an orange and white shirt, the same colors of the retro Houston Astros jersey that Mitchell was allegedly wearing the day of Yuan’s death. The manager of the Cricket Wireless store, Michelle Burke, testified Thursday that Mitchell was wearing that shirt when he came to purchase the phone.

The video footage showed the car driving on Springfield Road and Smith Street beginning around noon on Sept. 30. At 12:36 p.m., Yuan called Isaac. At 12:39 p.m., video footage showed Yuan’s black Chevrolet Camaro pull into the parking lot on Caton Drive, where that car was found after his death. At 12:48 p.m., video footage showed an individual walking toward that parking lot. Collins said Thursday that the individual was Isaac.

At 12:51 p.m., the 911 call reporting gunshots in the Springfield Garden Apartments complex was made. Video footage showed the black BMW driving northbound on Smith Street at 12:51 p.m. Cell tower data showed the phones belonging to Isaac and Mitchell at 12:55 p.m. moving away from DeWitt and toward North Syracuse, where Isaac resided.

Other video footage captured the black BMW entering the parking lot of the Cricket Wireless about 1 p.m., the time when Mitchell purchased the phone for Isaac using a false name. Footage then captured the car entering the parking lot of a Speedway gas station and convenience store at 1:27 p.m. An individual from the car entered the store at 1:29 p.m.

A security camera inside the convenience store showed an individual at 1:31 p.m. wearing a hat, which resembled the one that was later recovered by investigators when they searched Isaac’s apartment.

On Thursday the prosecution also played a recording of a phone call that Isaac allegedly made to his girlfriend from jail, days after he was arrested for murder. During the call, Isaac pressed his girlfriend to tell him details of an interview she had with authorities following his arrest.

“You didn’t say nothing crazy, did you? I hope you ain’t say nothing stupid,” Isaac said on the phone. “I hope you ain’t say nothing crazy.”

“There was some stuff I said I don’t know, but they knew I knew some stuff,” his girlfriend responded.

Isaac’s girlfriend could be heard crying on the phone. Isaac suggested that she get a lawyer and told her that “you should’ve kept your mouth shut.”

The trial will resume on Friday at 10 a.m. Cross-examination of Collins will continue after her testimony Thursday was cut short because of time constraints.

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