Crime

Second suspect in cab driver’s slaying tells court about day of cold-blooded killing

Officer testifies why flashy running shoes helped authorities make arrest

Columbus Police Det. Stuart Carter testified murder suspect Devin Durden was identified in surveillance video by his unique Nike running shoes, ones Carter said he's never seen on a suspect in all of the criminal cases he's worked.
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Columbus Police Det. Stuart Carter testified murder suspect Devin Durden was identified in surveillance video by his unique Nike running shoes, ones Carter said he's never seen on a suspect in all of the criminal cases he's worked.

The former codefendant in the murder case against Devin Durden took the witness stand Thursday to testify Durden shot cab driver Dwayne Chronister in cold blood during a 2016 robbery.

“We was sitting in the back seat, and we got out,” Dontavis Screws said, recalling what happened after they directed Chronister to take them from a Brown Avenue store to a Farr Road trailer park. “As soon as we got out, that’s when he got the gun on him and he shot him.”

Asked whether that was their plan to begin with, Screws said, “Not on my end, it wasn’t. It was just supposed to be a robbery.”

Screws, 23, is not on trial with Durden, because he has pleaded guilty to manslaughter and robbery. He’s expected to serve 20 years in prison.

A third defendant, Jasmine Thomas, also 23, who was Screws’ girlfriend in 2016, also faces charges in Chronister’s fatal shooting. Her case is still pending.

Thomas testified Wednesday, saying she called the Warrior cab for Screw and Durden around 5 a.m. on Oct. 17, 2016, telling the dispatcher the customer would be waiting at the Mystik Food Mart, 645 Brown Ave., and needed a ride to Alabama.

When Chronister pulled up in his Warrior cab van minutes later, he found Durden and Screws there instead of a woman, Screws said, and they told him they weren’t going to Alabama: They needed to go to the Parkwood Mobile Home Park, 527 Farr Road.

That’s where Chronister was told to stop in a cul de sac, and Screws and Durden got out, before Durden shot Chronister in the back of the head, took his cash, wallet and cell phone, and fled.

A surveillance camera at the trailer park entrance recorded the cab going in at 5:06 a.m., and two men walking rapidly away minutes later. The first police car arrived at 5:56 a.m.

A man living in the trailer park called 911 after he saw Chronister slumped over in the driver’s seat, with the back door to his cab standing open and the motor running. He was pronounced dead at the hospital at 11:05 a.m. He was 50 years old.

He was supposed to have had that day off. He had come back to work to try to make some extra money.

Backtracking

Learning Chronister first had been called to the Mystik Food Mart, police checked its surveillance video, and found it not only had recorded the Warrior cab picking up two men there, but showed what they alleged to be the same two men hanging out in the parking lot the day before.

During his testimony Thursday, Screws testified he and Durden were the two men recorded on the videos, and confirmed that Durden on both days was wearing black clothes and a distinctive pair of Nike running shoes.

Detective Stuart Carter testified Wednesday that he took particular notice of the shoes, while reviewing the video, because he’d never seen them before. He had to go online and Google them to determine they were Nike Pegasus running shoes, he said.

When police arrested Durden in Phenix City the following November, he directed them to some clothes he’d left at a friend’s house. That’s where investigators found a black jacket and sweat pants they say matched what Durden wore on the video, and the same pair of Nike Pegasus shoes.

Screws was arrested just two days after the homicide, because police were able to track Thomas’ cell phone from the number that showed up on caller ID when she called for the cab. Detectives first contacted one of her aunts, who identified Screws on the store video and told officers where she and Thomas lived.

Thomas testified that she and Screws were living on Forsyth Street in 2016 when Durden arrived on a bicycle about 4 a.m., banged on their door and told them that he needed a phone to call a cab, and that he needed money.

Screws said he and Durden walked from there to the Mystik Food Mart to meet the cab.

The witness

On the witness stand Thursday, Screws at times was combative in his response to attorneys’ questions.

When Chief Assistant District Attorney Al Whitaker suggested Screws would “rather not” be testifying, Screws shot back, “What do you mean I’d rather not testify? I’m here.”

Whitaker restated his question to suggest Screws was “not excited” about testifying.

“What do you mean?” Screws asked him. “I just woke up. What’s there to be excited about?”

Police and prosecutors say crucial witnesses often are reluctant to testify because they fear retaliation, particularly if they’re housed in the Muscogee County Jail. Screws’ attorney asked that he not be photographed while on the witness stand.

Testimony in the trial ended Thursday, with closing arguments set for Friday morning in Judge Gil McBride’s Government Center courtroom.

Represented by defense attorney Adam Deaver, Durden, 23, is accused of 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.


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