The prosecution in the trial of five alleged gang members began making its case Monday as it introduced into evidence a pistol linked to the shooting of two men.
On the first day of the trial, the brother of a man shot in another violent episode the same night in April 2009 took the stand.
Most of the evidence on Monday came from law enforcement officers who responded to or gathered evidence from the slaying of Bernardino Perez on the night of April 25, 2009, and a second shooting about an hour later. Perez was gunned down in a mobile home park on Sardis Church Road.
The panel of 16 jurors, which includes four alternates, also heard from officers who were at the scene of a home-invasion robbery about an hour later in which two men were shot.
In the latter event, Samuel Cruz testified that three masked gunmen entered his Circle Road residence and immediately shot men he knew as Javier and Jorge Louis. Through an interpreter, Cruz said that one of the assailants put a gun to the head of his infant daughter Maria and demanded money.
Cruz said that the three men had T-shirts over their faces and were wearing T-shirts and shorts. He said they left in a green Ford Expedition with a T-shirt covering the tag.
Other witnesses described seeing an SUV leaving the Sardis Church Road mobile home park when they went outside to investigate shots they heard.
Of the five men on trial, Tobias Demere Thomas is the only one indicted in the murder of Perez and the Circle Road shootings remaining. Alfonzo Knighton, 23, pleaded guilty prior to the start of the trial to burglary and possession of a firearm during the commission of a firearm in the fatal assault. Nyneson S. Jeudy is scheduled to stand trial separately after he was severed from the case due to his original attorney falling ill earlier this year.
Knighton, who is expected to be a witness in the case, and Jeudy also were indicted in the Circle Road shootings and robbery.
In addition to the revolver, Assistant District Attorney Brian McDaniel tendered two bullets Monday and more than 50 photographs. Eighteen witnesses testified during the trial’s first day.
McDaniel said that later testimony will link those bullets, one removed from one of the shooting victims and a second dug from the dirt underneath the mobile home, to the weapon.
Valdosta Police Department detectives testified about how the pistol was found after a Nov. 5, 2010, foot chase in which a man who ran from them was arrested inside a house.
The Valdosta officers, Jeremy Duncan and Travis Sparks, said they were on an operation with Colquitt County Drug Enforcement Team investigators on Sixth Street Southeast when they stopped to speak with Nathaniel Baker. Duncan testified he detained Baker at 813 Sixth Street Southeast and saw a holster but no weapon.
When officers retraced the route of the chase, they found the pistol that was introduced as evidence, they said.
Prosecutors allege that the five men, as members of a gang, committed the violent acts, which also include the July 2, 2010, slaying of Alvin Hunt, the July 9, 2010, armed robbery of a Winn Dixie grocery store and July 20, 2010, shooting of Jimmy Myers. Names given for the gang include the Forest Hill Boyz and FHB.
The indictment on which they are charged includes 48 counts in those crimes.
Robert Lee Fuller, Demetrius Tyshaun Daniels and Thomas are accused in the shooting death of Hunt. Randarius Perry and Danny D. Hill are indicted in the Winn Dixie robbery.
Thomas and Willie Clyde Hightower are indicted in the shooting of Myers.
Three others who entered guilty pleas the same day as Knighton also are expected to be called as prosecution witnesses.
Celerino Perez testified that he last saw his brother leaving on a bicycle after they ate and drank a few beers the night of his killing.
Bernardino Perez’s body was found near a bicycle at the end of a trail of blood, Georgia Bureau of Investigation Special Agent Wes Horne said. The trail of blood led to a mobile home that had a padlock on the door, possibly where Perez went to try to get help after being shot.
His body was found a short distance away, Horne said. Two .380-caliber shell casings were found at the crime scene.
GBI medical examiner Jonathan Eisenstat said that the bullet that traveled through Perez’s chest was a wound that would be “quickly fatal.” The bullet entered the right side of his chest and traveled through his pulmonary artery of his heart before exiting near his left arm pit.
The wound to the abdomen would not have killed Perez, he said.