In hindsight it seemed an omen of the year to come.
The year was only hours old when Columbus recorded its first homicide of 2013, with 22 more to come before the calendar changed again, an increase of six over the 17 reported in 2012.
Today the city's first homicide of 2013 becomes its first murder trial of 2014, as two suspects face multiple charges in the fatal shooting of Charles Foster Jr. inside a packed nightclub where six others were wounded in a barrage of gunfire.
Testimony this week should clarify how Foster, 24, whose family said he was a religious man and a committed Columbus State University student who avoided nightclubs, came to be the victim of a stray bullet that hit him in the left, upper chest around 2:15 a.m. Jan. 1, 2013. He was pronounced dead at Midtown Medical Center at 3:28 a.m.
As the toll of other homicide victims grew, Foster's case gained prominence as a symbol of epidemic gun violence. His death prompted public outrage as activists protested the 2102 Cusseta Road nightclub then known as the Majestic Sports Bar, a business the city ultimately shut down for its repeated code violations.
Foster became known nationally March 18, 2013, when National Public Radio's Melissa Block featured it in a report on gun deaths, interviewing Foster's friends and family and Senior District Attorney LaRae Moore, who will prosecute two defendants in the shooting.
They told NPR that Foster had struggled in school, but he worked through those difficulties toward a degree in political science, his diploma posthumously presented to his family at his funeral. His girlfriend said Foster had not wanted to go to a nightclub New Year's Eve, but she talked him into it.
"I finally got him to go with me," she told NPR. "I had to beg him. He always said, 'People die in clubs.'"
She and a cousin said they dropped to the floor and crawled outside to safety when the shooting started, but then learned Foster had not escaped. He still was lying inside, mortally wounded.
Columbus police reported that the shooting that started inside the club continued outside in the parking lot. They found bullet casings from at least two guns, one a 9 mm and the other a .45 caliber.
They arrested Dequandrea Truitt, 22, and Shaquille Porter, 20, who now each face two counts of murder, seven of aggravated assault and two of using firearms to commit a felony. Presiding at their trial today will be Superior Court Judge William Rumer. Truitt's defense attorney is Stacey Jackson; Porter's is Michael Eddings.
Over Jackson's objections, Moore prevailed last week in persuading Rumer to admit into evidence Truitt's alleged involvement in a Phenix City shooting in November 2012 and his incriminating statements to a police officer following his arrest Jan. 6, 2013.
In a pretrial hearing Thursday, Moore said Truitt was at a Phenix City recreation center on Nov. 19, 2012, when confronted by a man who accused Truitt of having shot him about three weeks earlier at Club Cream, another Columbus nightspot.
The two got into a fistfight and Truitt was losing when he pulled out a handgun and fired at the other combatant, Moore said. One of the other man's friends then got a shotgun and fired at Truitt, wounding him in the arm, the prosecutor said.
Everyone fled, but at the scene police found an empty 12-gauge shotgun shell and a spent casing from a .45-caliber pistol -- the same caliber of bullet casings Columbus police found at the Majestic, Moore said.
She said the earlier Phenix City shooting is relevant also because Truitt still wore a bandage on his arm the night Foster died, and witnesses identified him by the bandaged wound. Rumer decided Thursday that such evidence was admissible in Truitt's trial.
On Friday, the judge ruled statements Truitt made to a patrol officer after his arrest also were admissible.
His decision followed testimony Thursday from police Cpl. Joseph Jackson, whom detectives asked to find Truitt after Foster's homicide. The officer was acquainted with Truitt and contacted the suspect about surrendering to investigators. Joseph Jackson said Truitt over the telephone admitted he was at the club when the shooting started and told of trying to take cover in another person's car, but the driver wouldn't let him in. Truitt also told Officer Jackson that he had fired a gun outside the nightclub but not inside, the officer testified.
On Jan. 6, 2013, Joseph Jackson expected Truitt to call him back about surrendering, but instead Truitt called attorney Stacey Jackson to set up a meeting with the police fugitive squad, which took him into custody.
Joseph Jackson said he was perturbed Truitt hadn't called because other officers had asked whether he was hiding Truitt. So when the fugitive squad brought Truitt to police headquarters, Officer Jackson asked Truitt why he hadn't called.
He noticed then that Truitt had cut his hair, which had been in braids. When he asked why, Truitt said he'd "had to run" because he was wanted for murder.
Stacey Jackson objected to admitting Officer Jackson's testimony at trial because Truitt already had told fugitive squad officers he did not want to make any statements to investigators. Moore countered that the officer was only engaging Truitt in conversation, not interrogating him as part of a homicide investigation.