Attorneys in the trial of three people charged in a 2016 Easter weekend homicide at Columbus’ Peachtree Mall spent much of Friday arguing about what evidence jurors should see, particularly video from mall security cameras and the testimony of a Georgia gang expert.
Defense attorneys objected to showing jurors a so-called “cohesive video” that combined excerpts of footage from different mall surveillance cameras to show people prosecutors claim to be defendants Xzavaien Trevon Jones, 19; his sister Tekoa Chantrell Young, 24; and Terell Raquez McFarland, 26.
Ken Hudson, a retired Columbus police sergeant who was the lead investigator in the March 26 fatal shooting of 24-year-old Anthony Meredith, testified police used the surveillance videos to track the suspects as they ambushed Meredith at the entrance to the mall’s food court.
The defense attorneys did not want the jury watching a video that had been altered to fit the prosecution’s account of what happened that Saturday before Easter. They said the original raw footage from each camera was the more appropriate evidence.
Chief Assistant District Attorney Al Whitaker said it would take about eight hours to show the jury the complete footage. All the video already was in evidence, having been admitted on computer disks, he said.
Judge Frank Jordan allowed Whitaker to show the composite video after questioning the Columbus Tape & Video worker who compiled it. The video editor testified he made no alterations other than combining the relevant passages, which were not enhanced.
He also said the video appeared “choppy.” Asked what he meant, he said typically security cameras record at 30 frames per second, but the mall video looked slower. Videos with slower frame rates require less storage capacity, he said.
According to prosecutors, the video shows Young pacing back and forth in the parking lot before meeting Jones and McFarland, after which the three walk to the mall entrance, where Jones guns down Meredith, then they’re seen running back to their cars.
The prosecution maintains the three are in the Crips street gang, and they killed Meredith in retaliation for the Nov. 21, 2015, fatal shooting of Young’s boyfriend Christopher Twitty, the father of her child. Twitty also was in the Crips, investigators said.
On Thursday, Meredith’s girlfriend Shanna Douglas testified she, Young, Meredith and Twitty all knew each other from Hardaway High School, where Young got to be her “best friend.” She said Meredith and Twitty later had a dispute over Meredith’s fronting Twitty some marijuana, for which Twitty never paid.
Police believe the three suspects blamed Meredith for Twitty’s death.
Hudson, the retired sergeant, said Meredith, Twitty and McFarland each played football for Hardaway. Though Young’s brother Jones was too young for high school then, Douglas said she got to know him while hanging out with Young.
Hudson said the marijuana Twitty and Meredith fought over was worth about $3,000. Douglas acknowledged in her testimony that Meredith made a living dealing the drug.
Hudson said Twitty, McFarland and Jones were “OG Crips.” Asked what that meant, Hudson said the “OG” stands for “old gangster” or “original gangster,” meaning they were in the “upper echelon.”
A corrections officer testified Thursday that the Muscogee County Jail holds about 400 gang members, and authorities there have found evidence that McFarland and Jones are Crips. The jail has a capacity for around 1,000 inmates, so 400 would be about 40 percent of the total.
On Friday, prosecutors showed a video from August 2015, when a patrol officer arrested Jones after a traffic stop. The video from a camera in the patrol car recorded Jones laughing and saying the Crips would bail him out of jail.
The gang expert
On Friday afternoon, the trial hit another snag as lawyers argued over the testimony of a Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice officer, who the prosecution says is an expert on gangs and can analyze postings to the defendants’ Facebook pages.
Defense attorneys objected that Facebook accounts can be hacked, and that they were not given sufficient notice the prosecution was to present expert testimony.
Jordan allowed the jury to leave for the weekend, with instructions to return Monday, while he heard what the expert had to say to determine whether the testimony was admissible.
The expert was Ray Ham, who’s on the board of directors of the Georgia Gang Investigators Association. He testified that the United States in 2011 had 33,000 gangs with 1.4 million members, and today that likely has increased to 35,000 gangs with about 2 million members.
The Atlanta area now has about 30,000 gang members, and 96 percent of Georgia’s counties have some gang activity, he said.
Ham, formerly with the special investigations unit of the LaGrange Police Department, said he’s been involved in about 160 gang prosecutions, and has testified in the Troup and Coweta County courts.
He said a gang is a group of three or more who indicate their gang association through signs, symbols, graffiti and attire, and commit crimes as part of their association.
“Gang culture consumes our young people and that mindset follows them into their 20s and even 30s,” Ham said.
They earn respect within the gang by “putting in work” to advance the group’s interest, usually committing crimes such as robbery, burglary, auto break-ins or drug deals to gain money. They may participate in a “beat down” of another member to punish disloyalty.
Asked specifically about the Crips, he said they formed in south-central Los Angeles in the mid- to late 1960s, and as their gang color adopted the blue of the LA Dodgers baseball team.
Having reviewed some evidence in the murder case, Ham said he had “no doubt” Young, McFarland and Jones are associated with the Crips. If they believed Meredith killed a senior member of the gang, then Meredith was a “high-value target,” he said.
So when they found him out in public, “they did not hesitate to orchestrate that crime,” Ham said, adding that a homicide in such a busy area would send a signal to the public at large.
“That signal would be, ‘We’re here to stay. Don’t mess with us,” Ham said.