Cab driver Dwayne Chronister was supposed to be off duty the morning of Oct. 17, 2016, but he wanted to make some extra money, so he returned to work when called to pick up a fare on Columbus’ Brown Avenue.
Because of this fateful decision, what would have been his day off became the last day of his life: Chronister was found shot in the head about 5:30 a.m., slumped over in the driver’s seat of his Warrior cab van, with one door standing open and the motor still running.
He was pronounced dead at the hospital at 11:05 a.m. He was 50 years old.
Police backtracking his movements learned a woman had called for the cab at 4:56 a.m., saying the customers would be outside the Mystik Food Mart at 645 Brown Ave., and needed a ride to Alabama.
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Instead of heading across the river, Chronister reported back that he was going to Farr Road, not with a woman but two men. Thinking this odd and hearing nothing further, the dispatcher called his cell phone, and got no answer.
Within minutes a man in a mobile home park at 527 Farr Road found Chronister dying behind the wheel in a cul de sac.
Tracing the number from which the woman had called for the cab led police first to Jasmine Thomas, then to her boyfriend Dontavis Screws, and finally to his friend Devin Trashawn “Cash” Durden.
Now Durden, 23, is on trial for murder.
In an opening statement to jurors Tuesday, Chief Assistant District Attorney Al Whitaker laid out the evidence he said would prove Durden’s guilt.
He said Thomas told police she was home with Screws on Forsyth Street that night when they heard someone banging on their door about 4 a.m. Durden came in, having arrived on a bicycle, and asked for a phone to call a cab. He talked to Screws about “getting some money,” Whitaker said.
First they called a Radio cab, but that driver found no one at the Mystik Food Mart when he arrived, so he left. Then Thomas called for a Warrior cab.
The food mart was closed, but its surveillance cameras recorded the cab’s arrival and showed Durden and Screws getting in, Whitaker said.
He said store video from the day before also showed the two suspects, who were hanging out there in the parking lot. Police examining the recording noted Durden was wearing the same clothes he wore the next day, including a distinctive pair of Nike Pegasus running shoes.
Whitaker said Screws told police that Durden directed Chronister to Parkwood Mobile Home Park on Farr Road because Durden was familiar with its layout. According to Screws, both men got out of the cab there, and Screws was walking around to the driver’s window when Durden opened the driver’s side door, told Chronister “It’s a robbery” and immediately shot the driver in the back of head, taking his cash, cell phone and wallet, the prosecutor said.
Video surveillance of the trailer park entrance showed Chronister’s cab pulling in at 5:06 a.m., and two men walking rapidly away minutes later. The first police car arrived at 5:56 a.m.
Detectives quickly apprehended Screws and Thomas, but did not capture Durden until the following Nov. 8, in Phenix City, where he told officers he’d left some clothes at a friend’s house.
Investigators took him to retrieve the clothing, and found an outfit matching what they’d seen on the Mystik Food Mart video — including the Nike Pegasus running shoes, Whitaker said.
During testimony Wednesday, Detective Stuart Carter narrated as Whitaker showed jurors the Oct. 16, 2016, food mart video.
Stuart pointed to Durden’s clothes, noting a black “hoodie” or hooded jacket, black sweat pants, a wristwatch with a large clock face, and the Pegasus shoes, which Carter said he’d never seen before and had to look up online.
All the clothes matched what Durden was wearing the next day, when Chronister picked him up, and the clothes police confiscated after Durden’s arrest, Carter said: “It’s the exact same jacket, same pants, same shoes.”
Thomas took the witness stand later Wednesday to review the video, and identified Durden and Screws as the two men pictured.
Also testifying Wednesday was Catherine Jordan, a Georgia Bureau of Investigation firearms examiner, who was asked about a .380-caliber shell casing found on the ground outside Chronister’s cab.
She said markings on the shell casing showed it was fired from a Hi-Point .380 semi-automatic pistol. Authorities did not find the weapon.
In his opening statement on Tuesday, defense attorney Adam Deaver told jurors the video proves nothing, as it’s too blurred for anyone to confirm Durden is pictured on it. The shoes also do not incriminate Durden, as they’re widely available, Deaver said.
“The state cannot meet their burden of proof on any of this,” he told jurors.
Durden is charged with malice or intentional murder, of felony murder for allegedly killing Chronister while committing the felony of armed robbery, of armed robbery and of using a firearm to commit a crime.
Screws, 23, has pleaded guilty to reduced charges, and the case against Thomas, also 23, still is pending.
The trial resumes Thursday in Judge Gil McBride’s Government Center courtroom.