After 10 days straight days, the end of the murder and racketeering trial of Daphene Castille and two co-defendants finally is in sight.
Defense attorneys for each defendant rested their cases Wednesday morning, and Superior Court Judge William Rumer dismissed jurors around noon, with instructions for them to return at 9 a.m. Thursday for closing arguments.
Attorneys used Wednesday afternoon for their “charge conference,” when they discuss how the judge should instruct the jury on the applicable law so that in their deliberations, jurors have the knowledge to decide whether it was broken.
Castille, her son Jamal Castille and Dantrell Marshall are on trial for violating a Georgia law aimed at organized crime, the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, commonly called RICO. They allegedly operated a criminal enterprise involving drug dealing, bank robbery, murder and witness tampering.
A fourth defendant, Terrell Mars, Daphene Castille’s former boyfriend, has testified for the prosecution and is not on trial.
Prosecutors have laid out a case based on three key incidents that occurred in 2008:
On July 12, a Texas state trooper stopped Daphene Castille’s red Dodge Magnum for following too closely on Interstate 10 east of Houston. The driver, Johnerson Adams, tried to run away. He, Daphene Castille and Dantrell Marshall were detained when troopers found about $42,000 worth of cocaine in the car.
On Sept. 10, Jamal Castille and Terrell Mars robbed the CB&T bank branch then located at 5445 Forrest Road. Marshall admitted driving the getaway car. Prosecutors allege Daphene Castille wanted the loot to pay lawyers and buy more cocaine to make up for the Texas loss.
On Sept. 22, police informant David Coleman, who was feeding investigators tips on the bank robbery, was gunned down just inside the window of his apartment at 730 Lawyers Lane. Prosecutors claim Daphene Castille wanted Coleman dead when she learned he was telling police about her, and she asked her son to kill the tipster.
Each defendant is charged with murder in Coleman’s homicide.
Defense attorneys Thursday were rebuffed in their efforts to introduce evidence Mars once bragged that he was the only gunman in the fatal shooting. Cynthia Lain, who represents Daphene Castille, sought testimony from a police detective and a former jail inmate who said he heard Mars talk about shooting Coleman. But Assistant District Attorney March Konan argued such testimony was barred as “hearsay,” or unverified information of which a witness has no direct knowledge.
Rumer decided he could not rule on the question without hearing from the witnesses, and one of them, a former jail inmate named Charles Doleman, could not be located, though a warrant was issued for his arrest.
With the jury out of the courtroom, another former inmate, Lester Whitten, testified he was housed years ago in a Muscogee County Jail dormitory with Mars and Doleman, who swapped crime stories.
Whitten said Mars told Doleman he killed Coleman, telling the other inmate he “bumped or knocked him off, something like that.” But Whitten said his understanding was that Mars killed Coleman because Coleman was spreading too much money around from the bank robbery, not that the informant was telling police who robbed the bank.
Whitten said he thought Mars killed Coleman because Coleman was “renting cars or splurging, something like that.” The court has heard no evidence Coleman participated in the robbery or got any money from it, though he loaned Mars a gun to use.
Because authorities can’t find Doleman, Lain tried to get a statement he made to police into evidence. Detective Katina Williams testified she took Doleman’s statement Dec. 7, 2008, after the inmate sent a note saying he had information.
Williams said Doleman signed and initialed each page of his statement, in which he told essentially the same story Whitten did about Mars’ comments on Coleman’s homicide.
Konan, the prosecutor, argued Doleman had no more “independent knowledge” of Coleman’s homicide than Whitten did, and court precedents say hearsay testimony a third party admitted to a crime a defendant’s charged with is inadmissible.
Among the court precedents Rumer said he considered in rejecting such testimony was the 2013 Georgia Supreme Court case Bradley v. State, which sets a standard for making exceptions to barring hearsay testimony.
In that case, the justices wrote:
“In determining whether a statement is sufficiently trustworthy, the trial court was required to consider the totality of the circumstances surrounding the making of the declaration, and only where the declarant’s truthfulness is so clear from the surrounding circumstances that the test of cross examination would be of marginal utility does the hearsay rule not bar admission of a hearsay statement at trial.”
The “totality of the circumstances” in this instance undermined the witnesses’ reliability, particularly that of the witness now subject to arrest, the judge decided, so the jury did not hear Whitten’s or Williams’ testimony.