UPDATE: Jury in Ron Blair murder trial hears from man whose singing sparked fatal confrontation

Police say second gun found in shrubs near crime scene

tchitwood@ledger-enqurier.comJune 24, 2013 

The jury in the murder case against Ron Blair today heard from the witness who was with Blair the night Keon Coleman fatally was shot in the head at 12th Street and Broadway in downtown Columbus.

Joseph James “JJ” Coleman, who is not related to the victim, told the court he was stunned when Blair abruptly threw a drink in Keon Coleman’s face and fired a .32-caliber Derringer at the 19-year-old’s head.

The teen fell to the sidewalk, leaving JJ Coleman shaking his head, and asking himself, “What just happened?” he said.

He acknowledged that early on March 25, 2012, he was standing on a bench in front of the Broadway CB&T bank as he loudly and repeatedly sang the rap lyric, “If that’s your ho, that’s my ho, too,” as a group of young women walked by. Blair was with him, he said.

Keon Coleman, who was across 12th Street with two friends, called him over, he said. Blair accompanied him as they crossed the street, he said.

He said one of Keon Coleman’s friends told him, “That’s my homeboy’s girlfriend,” so he apologized to the friend, and he and the friend shook hands. Meanwhile Keon Coleman and Blair exchanged words, he said.

Then Blair tossed the contents of his red Solo cup in Keon Coleman’s face with his left hand as he raised the Derringer in his right and shot the teen in the head, JJ Coleman said. “It seemed like everything happened at the same time,” he said.

He said the friend with Keon Coleman had dreadlocks, indicating a witness others have identified as Terrell “Bell” Bellamy, whom JJ Coleman did not know by name. When Blair fired, the friend initially ran toward some nearby shrubs, then came back as Keon Coleman fell to the sidewalk, he said.

With a crowd gathering, JJ Coleman decided to get away from the scene, so he crossed Broadway at 12th Street from the northeast corner to the southwest, where Blair drove up and told him, “Get in the car,” he said. Blair then drove down Broadway and turned west to the Dillingham Street bridge, crossing into Phenix City and going south on Seale Road.

“He was still like in another world,” JJ Coleman said of Blair, who he said told him, “I should kill you.” He managed to placate Blair and persuade Blair to drop him at a friend’s house in Phenix City, he said.

The shrubs on the northeast corner of Broadway and 12th Street he had mentioned were adjacent to the crime scene, the site of a sculpture made of pipes mounted in front of an old Raymond Rowe furniture store. Beneath those shrubs police found a .40-caliber Taurus pistol hours after the shooting.

That evidence could be crucial to Blair’s attorneys, who claim Blair shot Keon Coleman in self-defense after Keon Coleman first threatened him with a gun. So far no witness has testified that the victim had a weapon.

Police Cpl. David Pierson today testified that he collected the gun, which had a loaded clip but no round in its firing chamber, sometime after 7 a.m. The shooting happened about six hours earlier.

Pierson could not say to whom the gun belonged. It was among the items he collected from the crime scene; others included the red Solo cup Blair had, and a white, blood-smeared cap that Keon Coleman had worn. Asked the distance between the gun and the cap, Pierson estimated 30-40 feet.

Police arrested Blair about 11 a.m. that day when he returned to Broadway, where he was leasing space for a nightclub he had not yet opened. Detectives said Blair ran when they showed up, but they caught him about a block away.

On April 9, 2012, a downtown worker doing maintenance behind the Coo Coo’s Nest Skate Shop, 1250-B Broadway, found a .32-caliber Derringer in the same area to which Blair had run from police, officers said. They said a ballistics test showed it was the same gun used to shoot Coleman.

Here is Tuesday's report on the murder trial:

Ron Blair’s murder trial was interrupted Tuesday morning when the mother of 19-year-old Keon Coleman screamed and collapsed on the witness stand upon being shown an autopsy photo.

When prosecutor Jennifer Cooley asked Keyona Coleman who was pictured, the mother began to scream, “My dead son! My dead baby!”

Her eldest son was the teenager Blair shot in the head early on March 25, 2012, at 12th Street and Broadway in downtown Columbus. Defense attorney Michael Eddings in his opening statement Tuesday did not dispute that Blair shot Coleman, but argued Blair acted in self-defense because Coleman pulled a gun on him.

As Coleman’s mother collapsed in the courtroom, she screamed, “Help me God! Don’t leave me God! Don’t leave me!” Deputies picked her up to help her from the room, and Judge William Rumer called for a 30-minute recess so she could regain her composure.

She only briefly returned to the stand before prosecutors moved on to witnesses who were downtown the night Coleman was shot. One was 18-year-old Maranda Dukes, who described how the confrontation began that night.

She said she and her friends were celebrating a birthday by “walking the strip,” or strolling down Broadway. They were going south on the road’s east side, and were crossing 12th Street when they heard Joseph “JJ” Coleman — who’s unrelated to the victim — singing a song by the rap star Future. The song has the line, “If that’s your ho, that’s my ho, too.”

JJ Coleman was 12th Street’s south side, sitting on a sculpture, she said. Keon Coleman was on the north side when he heard the lyric and questioned JJ Coleman’s intent.

With Blair following, JJ Coleman crossed the street to confront Keon Coleman, she said. Blair then walked up to them and said, “Y’all need to chill,” she said.

Then she saw Blair raise a red Solo cup and heard a shot, and saw Keon Coleman slump to the ground. She saw Blair with a handgun, she said, but she did not see him shoot Keon Coleman.

Under Eddings’ cross-examination, Dukes acknowledged that in her statement to police that night, she said she thought JJ Coleman was the gunman, but had not seen anyone with a weapon. “I was still in shock, sir,” she told Eddings.

She said JJ Coleman had approached Keon Coleman with one hand down at his pants, as if he had a weapon. With Dukes that night was Raven Mickle, 19, who said JJ Coleman had begun to sing louder as the group of women approached. Keon Coleman, who knew the women and had been walking behind them with his friend Terrell Bellamy, seemed to take offense, saying, “What you talking about?”

That’s what prompted JJ Coleman to cross the streeet north to confront Keon Coleman, with Blair following behind, she said. She never saw Keon Coleman with a gun, nor saw him argue with Blair, she said. As he talked to JJ Coleman, Keon Coleman paced back and forth with his hands out at his sides, she said.

Then came the gunshot, and Keon Coleman crumpled as Bellamy tried to hold him up, she said. She said Bellamy broke down crying as he repeated, “Don’t go! Don’t leave me!”

Neither Dukes nor Mickle remembered the motorist who stopped to help.

Called to the witness stand, Scott Phillips testified he was driving north on Broadway when he heard the shot.

A former New Orleans police officer who trained as an Army combat medic, Phillips stopped to put his training to use.

He said Keon Coleman had a dime-sized bullet hole in his head about an inch above his right ear. A “volcano wound,” Phillips called it, saying it looked like a shot at close range. He could feel gunpowder residue on Keon Coleman’s face, and still could smell gunpowder, he said. The wounded man had a faint heartbeat, but was gasping and gurgling as he tried to breathe, Phillips said. When an ambulance arrived, Keon Coleman “was still showing signs of life,” he said.

Defense attorney Stacey Jackson questioned whether Phillips had the expertise to say whether the gunshot was at close range. Phillips countered that he had witnessed wounds from shots fired at a range of distances.

Dr. Stacy Desamours, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy two days later, said she found no gunpowder soot or other residue on the body. Had the shot been as close as 12 to 18 inches, the bullet wound should have had “stippling,” or weightier gunshot debris that travels farther than the lighter gunpowder, she said.

She said the bullet hole was about a quarter-inch wide, and the bullet took a diagonal path upward as it crossed right to left, lodging under the skin on the left side of Keon Coleman’s head.

In her opening statement, prosecutor Jennifer Cooley had described the shooting as a “sucker punch,” saying Blair threw a drink in Keon Coleman’s face as he fired. When Desamours was asked whether the victim had to be looking away to have been shot in the side of the head, the pathologist answered, “Assuming he was looking forward, then he would not have seen the shot.” No witness so far has said Keon Coleman had a gun, though Eddings in his opening statement claimed he threatened Blair with one, causing Blair to act in self-defense by throwing the drink as he fired one shot from a two-shot Derringer in Keon Coleman’s direction.

Eddings said some witnesses will testify that Keon Coleman had motivation to attack Blair, as the victim believed Blair had been a police “snitch” in a case against a friend. When prosecutors objected to this scenario, Eddings refused to identify which witnesses he meant, telling Rumer only, “They’re on the witness list, your honor.”

Here is Monday's report on the trial:

According to Columbus police, witnesses saw Ron Dietrick Blair Sr. pull a double-move on Keon Coleman during a confrontation on March 25, 2012 – throwing a drink in Coleman’s face with his left hand as he shot Coleman in the head with a Derringer held in his right.

Then he fled, leaving Coleman dying on the sidewalk downtown at 12th Street and Broadway, investigators said. Coleman, 19, of Phenix City, later succumbed to the head wound at The Medical Center.

Blair, 33, is on trial this week in Muscogee Superior Court, facing charges of murder, aggravated assault, using a firearm to commit a crime and being a felon with a firearm.

Court testimony should shed more light on what led to the reported conflict between Blair and Coleman about 1 a.m. that Sunday morning.

During Blair’s preliminary hearing in Columbus Recorder’s Court on March 27, 2012, detectives said Blair and a companion named “JJ” were downtown when Coleman came by with a group of friends. Blair and Coleman got into a confrontation, provoking Blair to pull out the pistol, Detective Katina Williams testified: “Witnesses said Ron Blair then dashed the contents of a red Solo cup into the victim’s face with his left hand and then shot with his right hand,” she said.

Though Blair fled that morning, witnesses alerted police about 11 a.m. when he returned to Broadway, where he was leasing space for a downtown nightclub. When officers pulled up, he ran, but police caught him about a block away, they said.

Then investigators went looking for the gun. The day after Blair’s arrest, they interviewed his ex-girlfriend, Asia Blue, who told them she reported in December 2011 that she suspected Blair had burglarized her Schaul Street home, taking flat-screen TVs and a video game console. She told them also that she’d filed a theft report that same month because Blair had taken her pistol and never returned it.

She’d bought the gun at Wild Bill’s Jewelry and Pawn on Buena Vista Road, she said, so police went there to check receipts, and found that on Oct. 11, 2011, she had bought a Davis .32-caliber Derringer, serial number 002594.

On March 27, 2012, police searched Blair’s home on Peacock Drive in Phenix City, where they found two flat-screen Samsung TVs matching those Blue had reported stolen, they said. The television sets were returned to her, detectives said, but they did not find her handgun.

Someone else did, investigators said: On April 9, 2012, an employee of the Coo Coo’s Nest Skate Shop, 1250-B Broadway, was working behind the shop when he found a Davis .32-caliber Derringer bearing the serial number 002594. It was in the same area to which Blair had run from police after the homicide, officers said.

They said a ballistics test later showed it was the same gun used to shoot Coleman.

Blair’s defense attorneys, Stacey Jackson and Michael Eddings, have sought to suppress the evidence derived from authorities’ searching Blair’s Phenix City home. Jackson also has filed a motion arguing Blair acted in self-defense during the shooting, as allowed by Georgia law.

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