Prosecution condemns 'snitching' culture in murder trial closing

chwilliams@ledger-enquirer.comFebruary 27, 2014 

In a powerful and passionate plea for a jury to convict Dequandrea Truitt and Shaquille Porter in the 2013 New Year’s Day killing of Charles Foster Jr. at a Columbus nightclub, Senior Assistant District Attorney LaRae Moore attacked what she called “a code of silence.”

“Dec. 31, 2012; a club full of people; 21 shots fired inside and outside; one dead; six wounded and all we are left with is a handful of witnesses,” she told the Muscogee County Superior Court jury Thursday in her closing argument. “Why? ... What would make people in a crowded nightclub deaf, dumb and blind to gunfire?”

Tuitt, 22, and Porter, now 20, each face two counts of murder, seven of aggravated assault and two of using firearms to commit a felony in the case that has dragged on for nine days and has included more than 35 witnesses and 200 pieces of evidence. Their attorneys, Stacey Jackson and Michael Eddings, have pointed out time and again the lies and inconsistencies in testimony about what happened in the Majestic Sports Bar, a seedy Cusseta Road club full of underage patrons that has since been shut down by the city.

But Moore’s two weeks of trial frustration and more than a year of hitting wall after wall in the investigation of Foster’s death inside the Majestic Sports Bar boiled over into a 60-minute condemnation of the street culture and the impact it has on the justice system.

“This culture of silence is making it impossible for the police to enforce laws in a certain part of town,” she said. “I can’t help but ask how this case would be different if it happened at 5 p.m. on Saturday in the Publix on Macon Road? It would be different. ... Witnesses would be lined up to talk to the police.”

The driving distance between the Publix and the Majestic Sports Bar is less than two miles.

Moore, with the word “snitch” written on a piece of paper, then walked toward the defense table where Porter and Truitt were sitting and taped it to her back.

“Those who came in here and testified got labeled as a snitch,” she said.

She then pointed out that Truitt testified that he told a Columbus police officer at the time of his arrest he didn’t want to be labeled a snitch.

“All we are left with is five people willing to testify that they saw anything,” Moore said.

Three of the six shooting victims did not testify because Moore and the prosecution could not find them or get them to court. One victim, Breona Matthews, was in court for the first day of the trial, but despite repeated efforts and a contempt of court citation, she could not be located to testify for the state, Moore said.

Chief Assistant District Attorney Alonza Whitaker also argued for the conviction of Porter and Truitt, but he was a realist about the state’s witness list.

“At club Majestic you are not going to find nuns, preachers, teachers and Boy Scout leaders,” he said. “You have to deal with clientele there.”

Jackson, representing Truitt, and Eddings, representing Porter, used that to their advantage as they argued the jury should set the defendants free.

Jackson took aim at Foster’s girlfriend LaQuoia Arnold in his closing remarks. He pointed out how her story changed from the morning of the shooting when she was first interviewed by police, to an interview two weeks later and then at the trial. Jackson pointed out that Arnold came up with story about Truitt having a gun as he left the club 13 months after the shooting.

“The fundamental difference,” Jackson told the jury, “now she was in jail.”

Arnold was one of the state’s key witnesses and Jackson used every opportunity to point out faslsehoods in her testimony. Jackson told the jury that Arnold told police that Truitt was shot in a robbery in Phenix City. Court testimony showed he was shot in a fight outside the Spencer Recreation Center in Phenix City less than two months before the Majestic shooting. “That was a lie,” Jackson said.

One witness, Erica Streeter, who’s brother, Terrence, is a close friend of Porter’s, testified she saw Porter shoot inside the club. Eddings tried to tear apart her story. He pointed out that Erica Streeter did not tell police that she had a sexual relationship with Porter. He also pointed out that her brother disputed her testimony, claiming she had more to drink than she admitted to the court.

In the end, Eddings used Streeter’s words to maintain his client’s innocence.

“Erica Streeter is adamant that the shooter had on brown coveralls,” Eddings said. “... Shaquille Porter had on nothing close to brown coveralls.”

Jackson was not going to touch Erica Streeter’s testimony in his closing.

“She didn’t say anything about my client,” Jackson said. “That is all I am going to say about that.”

A Columbus police officer who knew Truitt and tried to arrange his surrender after Truitt fled to Tennessee while authorities were looking for him, testified Thursday before the closing arguments that he was not a part of a plan to split a $1,000 reward for Truitt’s capture.

Officer Joseph Jackson, a disabled Army veteran, told the court he was a mentor to Truitt, contradicting previous testimony from Truitt and Latoria Myers.

Whitaker pounced on the accusations against the officer in his closing.

“This could keep a kid who needs a mentor from having one because Mr. Jackson’s good was evilly spoken of,” Whitaker said.

Attorney Stacey Jackson pointed out the lack of physical evidence. The prosecution did not have any of the three guns GBI experts testified were used in the shooting.

“The state wants you to convict Mr. Truitt for a shooting inside the club when there is no evidence he shot inside the club,” Jackson said.

Moore disputed Jackson’s claim.

“We have never alleged which one had which gun,” Moore said. “It doesn’t matter. They were both shooting inside and outside the club.”

Moore got the last word, and she walked into the gallery to make it. Using a microphone, Moore sat next to Foster’s mother, Jessee Foster, and the Rev. Willie Phillips, a community activist who led the effort to close the club. All eyes in the jury box were on Moore, Foster and Phillips as they had to look over Jackson and Eddings to see them.

Moore talked about the victim, who was about to graduate from Columbus State University and was reluctant to go the club that night, but was talked into it by his girlfriend.

“When Charles Foster Jr. died, the pride of a family died,” Moore said. “Charles had a life of promise, a life of hope and a real future.”

Foster’s mother, who did not testify, sobbed while Phillips fought back tears.

“Charles Foster Jr. is not here to speak to you,” Moore told the jury. “You are going to have to speak for him.”

Judge William Rumer is expected to send the case to the jury this morning. The trial resumes at 8:15 a.m.

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