David Scott’s killers shot the wrong guy, prosecutors said Wednesday as a four-defendant murder trial involving a 2013 crime spree began in Muscogee Superior Court.
When they used a stolen pickup truck to block the white Chevy Impala that Scott was driving on Sept. 19, 2013, they were hunting for Scott’s cousin Bryant "Diamond Earl" Early, a gambler known to carry $2,000-$3,000 on him for card-playing money, authorities said.
They didn’t know Scott had just borrowed Early’s car so he and lifelong friend Eric Morris could drive to a store on Brown Avenue, said prosecutors.
Morris testified he and Scott were on their way back, traveling on Seventh Street to a stop sign at Coolidge Avenue, when the 2003 Ford F-150 raced up and blocked their path.
He described what happened next:
Two men armed with pistols and wearing white masks and black bandanas jumped out of the truck cab and ran to the passenger’s side of the Impala, ordering Scott to get out. Scott told Morris to get down and threw the car in reverse, trying to get away.
A hail of bullets hit the car, coming not only from the masked men with pistols but from others in the bed of the truck. The windshield shattered. Morris squeezed against the door, leaning down as far as he could.
When the shooting stopped, he heard Scott ask whether he was OK. Morris turned back, saw blood on his T-shirt, and blood pouring from Scott’s forehead. Scott’s eyes were closed, he said.
Scott died later at the hospital from the head wound over his left eye, where a piece of bullet that fragmented as it penetrated the windshield passed through his skull.
"I was in shock," recalled Morris, who was left bewildered by the unexplained assault.
Columbus police later found more than 25 rounds had been fired at the Impala from four different guns, two of them 9mm pistols, one a .45-caliber and the other a 223 rifle.
Investigators later would decide Scott’s fatal shooting was the final act of a crime spree involving five suspects: Jayln Trevonta Dixon, Donald Rydell Fair, Christopher Deshawn Pender, Tyrecquiss Shaewaun "Shae-Shae" Wells, and Christopher Don Whitaker.
Only four are on trial this week because Dixon made a deal to plead guilty to reduced charges in exchange for his testimony.
"Lawless are they who make their wills their law," prosecutor Chris Williams said in his opening statement, quoting Shakespeare. He said the suspects turned Columbus into an "urban jungle," terrorizing the city.
Their spree started with the early morning theft of the pickup, followed minutes later by a burglary, both of which Pender admitted, Williams said.
Later Whitaker called a man who sold marijuana to set him up for a robbery, Williams said, and Dixon, Pender and Wells took the pickup to Baltic Court, parking out of sight until the dealer arrived about 8 p.m., when Dixon and Pender rushed him with guns, yelling, "Give it up!"
They got $400, but opened fire when the dealer sped away, wounding him in the stomach, the prosecutor said.
When Wells sped away from Baltic Court in the pickup, Dixon fell out, leaving "road rash" abrasions on his abdomen, Williams said. Police at that scene found .45-caliber and 223 shell casings, he said.
Next Wells hatched a scheme to rob a "gambling house" on Church Avenue, where Early regularly played cards, Williams said. The house was about two blocks from where Scott was shot.
The gunmen were on their way to Church Avenue about 10:30 p.m. when Wells saw Early’s white Impala and told his cohorts the driver was their target, initiating the shooting that took Scott’s life, the prosecutor said.
Caught in a crossfire, Pender was hit in the leg, Williams said, and police later would be summoned to St. Francis Hospital to question the gunshot victim. They also would be called to Bayberry Drive and Buena Vista Road, where they found the Ford pickup in flames.
The first four suspects were soon in custody, but not Wells, who about 3:30 p.m. the following Sept. 24 was seen driving his girlfriend’s car and ran from police, reaching speeds of more than 100 mph and nearly hitting a school bus, Williams said. Wells later ditched the car and tried to run, but officers chased him down.
Defense attorneys told the jury their clients were accused of guilt by association.
Greg Johnson, who represents Whitaker, 24, said his client only tried to set up a marijuana deal, not a robbery, and thought the deal fell through because the dealer told him he had nothing to sell. Whitaker was in the pickup when Scott was shot, but did not know about the scheme to rob a gambling house, Johnson said.
Susan Henderson, who represents Pender, 22, said Pender was not closely associated with the other suspects, and was shot because he did not participate in the assault on Scott.
Clark Adams, who represents Fair, 22, said Dixon incriminated his client to shift the blame, and in exchange got a sweet deal: Once facing life without parole, he was allowed to plead guilty to voluntary manslaughter rather than murder.
Richard Hagler, who represents Wells, 25, also blasted the deal Dixon got, and told jurors the prosecution’s case was missing too many pieces to be complete. "There are a ton of holes they want you to fill in," he told the jury. He said Wells drove the pickup to the marijuana deal expecting nothing else, because he’d dealt with the dealer before. He knew nothing of a planned robbery.
Hagler acknowledged Wells fled from police, but said that was because his client "panicked."
The trial resumes today in Judge William Rumer’s Government Center courtroom.
Here are the allegations in the indictment:
In Scott’s death, each defendant faces charges of malice or intentional murder, felony murder for killing Scott while committing the felony of aggravated assault, aggravated assault, criminal attempt to commit a felony for trying to rob Scott, aggravated assault on Scott’s passenger Eric Morris, using a firearm to commit a crime, and theft by receiving stolen property for the Ford truck.
In the drug dealer’s shooting, Pender, Wells and Whitaker are charged with aggravated assault and armed robbery. Pender and Wells also are charged with using a firearm to commit a felony.
Pender faces charges of falsely reporting a crime and making false statements to police for lying to detectives who questioned him Sept. 19 and 23.
For burning the stolen truck, Fair is accused of tampering with evidence and third-degree arson.
For the high-speed chase he initiated Sept. 24, Wells is charged with trying to elude police. Because of previous burglary convictions, he also is charged with two counts of being a felon with a firearm.