A 24-year-old Columbus man struggled Tuesday to remember the night two visitors set him up for a home invasion that left him brain-damaged from being shot in the head with his own gun.
Because of his severe memory loss, he could not recall much — only a couple of details. The rest had vanished from his crippled mind.
He was testifying in the trial of Dewayne Vidal Searcy Jr., 24, charged with aggravated battery, aggravated assault, first-degree burglary, using a gun to commit a felony and being a convicted felon with a firearm.
Prosecutors allege Searcy was one of two men whom the women visiting the victim allowed into the second-floor home at Cooper Cove Apartments on Milgen Road around 3:30 a.m. May 11, 2016.
The men were supposed to sneak in through the unlocked door while the women distracted the resident, and take guns and drugs from a safe in a bedroom closet.
That was their plan, but their plan went awry.
The two women were Jessica Brooke Elliott, then 22, and Ashley Loraine Wright, who was 24. Elliott was acquainted with the victim, as she knew his sister, and she had bought Xanax from him before. He sold small amounts of marijuana, too, storing the drugs in his safe with his guns.
Also in on the plan was Phillip Michael Futrell, then 28, a heroin user Elliott was dating. Elliott said Futrell and Searcy came up with the scheme and recruited the women to help.
They knew their target had guns and drugs, and that someone had broken into his apartment two weeks earlier. What they had not anticipated, when the women knocked on his door, was that he would greet them with a loaded .45-caliber Smith & Wesson pistol.
When he welcomed them in, Wright asked for some Xanax, and he took them to his safe and gave her some. They wanted to smoke marijuana, but had no cigarette papers.
He put his gun down on the coffee table – where Elliott shot a cell phone photo of it and sent it to Searcy – and they went out on the balcony and started crushing beer cans, to help clean up the apartment.
While they were outside, Searcy and Futrell snuck in.
The victim saw them, and charged inside. That’s when Searcy is alleged to have grabbed the gun and fired three shots, twice hitting the man in the left arm and once behind his left ear.
Then everyone ran outside, including the victim. “It was almost like he was running after them,” Elliott tearfully testified Tuesday.
“I was shocked and scared, and I freaked out,” she said, of the shooting adding, “That wasn’t part of the plan.”
Unlike the other three suspects, she could not bring herself to leave. She told the wounded man to sit down and stay still, and she called 911.
When the victim got to the hospital, emergency room physician Dr. Nadine Regis could see “brain matter that was coming from the skull,” she testified. “He could not follow commands, or express himself.”
Then 22, a graduate of Harris County High School and formerly a Columbus State University biology student, he would never fully recover: He would never live alone again, because of seizures and memory loss, and he would not recall what happened.
“All I remember is sitting out on the balcony, smoking a cigarette,” he testified. “I remember bleeding, going down the breezeway, and that’s it.”
He spent weeks in the hospital, and months in physical therapy. Once an avid reader who collected Stephen King novels, he spent a year learning to read again. He spent the summer of 2016 living with an aunt who could monitor him and help with his rehabilitation.
“He was mentally and physically wounded…. He was trapped in his own head,” the aunt testified. “It was like talking to a toddler.”
She would tell him to brush his teeth, and he would go into the bathroom and freeze. “He would just go in there and stand, and forget why he was in there, and walk out,” she said. Sometimes he left the water running.
He had always been quiet, but now he seemed speechless, she said: “I don’t think he knew how to express himself. He would be so frustrated.” She created flashcards to teach him the alphabet again, and used song lyrics for regaining his word recognition.
She so feared leaving him alone that she put a baby monitor in his bedroom, where sometimes his silence abruptly shattered. “He would wake up screaming at night,” she said.
On the witness stand, he testified he could recall some of what happened before he was shot. He remembered that Elliott on May 10, 2016, had contacted him via a Facebook message. He remembered he’d known Futrell through Futrell’s brother, Austin. He had met Searcy before, too, at parties, and knew him by the nickname “Little DJ.”
He did not know Wright.
Elliott said Futrell and Searcy were close, as she saw them together almost every day, while she lived with Futrell. They were out by the pool the day the two men asked whether she knew the victim, and recruited her and Wright for the robbery scheme.
They chose to rendezvous about 2:30 a.m. at a Circle K on Airport Thruway, where the two women left in Wright’s car and Futrell and Searcy followed in a car belonging to Futrell’s father. On the way, she Facebook-messaged the victim to let him know she and a friend were coming over.
After their plan went wrong, and her codefendants left her behind, she initially lied to police about what happened, claiming two men wearing hoodies and sunglasses broke in and did the shooting. She was being questioned at police headquarters when she broke down and corrected her account, she said.
Police then began rounding up the suspects. They arrested Futrell after he attempted suicide: He was found unconscious behind the wheel of his father’s car, where he tried to overdose on heroin, prosecutors said.
Defense attorney Mark Jones told jurors in his opening statement that Elliott still was lying to authorities about what happened that night. He accused her, Futrell and Wright of blaming Searcy for a crime that most likely someone else committed.
“It’s a circle of lies,” Jones said, but prosecutors bought the story, and never considered alternatives. “I think the truth is the state cannot prove their case. … The state believed Jessica’s lie.”
Jurors will not be able to find Searcy guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, he said: “You’re going to see reasonable doubt everywhere.
Searcy alone is on trial because his codefendants each pleaded guilty Monday to one count of first-degree burglary. Judge Gil McBride has set their sentencing for 9 a.m. March 22.
Assistant District Attorney Christopher Williams said in his opening statement that the case strikes at the heart of Columbus residents’ sense of security, raising the fear of being assaulted and robbed in their homes.
A home invasion targets not just a single individual, but everyone’s longing for safety, eroding “our right to feel safe in our homes, our right for our property to be secure,” Williams said.
As the Ledger-Enquirer rarely identifies victims of assault, the newspaper has elected not to name the youth who suffered the crippling injury in this case.