Prosecutor describes fatal shooting at 5 Corner Lotto store in opening statement
Prosecutors on Monday are concluding a complex case against two men on trial for a 2016 fatal shooting at Columbus’ 5 Corner Lotto store on Linwood Boulevard.
Since testimony began May 21, key witnesses have taken the stand to testify against Jalontaye Clay Cleveland and Courtney Trumaine Williams, charged with murder in the death of 23-year-old Vastal Patel, fatally shot during a Nov. 6, 2016, attempted robbery of the store. Pate’s father was wounded in the shooting.
Cleveland and Williams also are on trial for five Columbus store robberies between Oct. 10, 2016, and Jan. 18, 2017.
In the past two weeks, the jury of 14 women and one man – with three of the jurors serving as alternates – has heard from other suspects who initially were charged in the case before they made deals with prosecutors to testify.
The jury Wednesday is hearing closing arguments that are being streamed live from the courtroom.
Among the trial’s key witnesses was Dominique Collins, who said he was one of three masked men who confronted Patel and his father outside the 5 Corner Lotto store shortly before 10 p.m.
Collins said he was accompanied by Cleveland, who was armed with a .380 Taurus handgun, and Joshua Tucker, who had a .40-caliber pistol stolen in another robbery. Collins said he was the would-be robber recorded talking on a cell phone in store surveillance video. Collins was talking to Williams, the getaway driver.
Police said Williams was driving a GMC Denali belonging to his girlfriend, Kimberly Huffman.
Williams dropped his three accomplices off with the plan that they would come from the rear of the store when Patel and his father came out the front door, Collins said, so Williams had to serve as a lookout, to tell Collins via cell phone when the three should come around the corner of the building.
They advanced as planned, when Williams gave them the go-ahead, but their plan went awry when Cleveland got to the victims first and started shooting, firing six bullets before the suspects ran down Linwood Boulevard to Dudley Avenue, where Williams picked them up, Collins said.
Senior District Attorney Don Kelly said the surveillance video shows Cleveland stuck his gun in the father’s face, and started firing when the victim tried to swat the weapon away.
One bullet passed through a gallon of milk the father was holding and entered his abdomen, as milk spilled out of the jug. Another hit the son in the spine, killing him.
Collins proved crucial to cracking the case, because the surveillance video police replayed showed he’d been in the store before, while traveling in what appeared to be the same sport-utility vehicle recorded in the area during the shooting.
Collins said he was there at 8 or 9 p.m. that same night, when he tried to buy a cigar, but could not because the clerk asked for his identification and he had none.
He’d also been in the store the day before, to buy a soft drink using an EBT, or Electronic Benefit Transfer, card through which a user gets public assistance. Collins said he got the card and its personal identification number from Williams.
The card actually belonged to Huffman, Williams’ girlfriend. When police started tracing the card Collins used, it led them to her.
Kelly said police questioned her on Nov. 21, 2016, learning she owned a dark 2004 GMC Denali. Searching the Denali, police found Williams’ state-issued identification card, a pair of men’s shorts, and a phone registered to Williams, the prosecutor said.
Because one of the would-be 5 Corner Lotto robbers was recorded talking on a cell phone, police tracked calls that went through the nearest cell tower, and traced one to Collins.
They saw Collins’ number had called one with a 229 area code, which led them to a woman with whom he shared a child. She identified Collins from the store surveillance video.
Collins left town on Dec. 19, 2016, for an assignment with Job Corps in Kentucky, where authorities arrested him Feb. 2, 2017, and extradited him to Columbus.
The information he gave police tied the 5 Corner Lotto suspects to other robberies.
He testified that he’d known Cleveland since they were at Arnold Middle School together, and Cleveland introduced him to Williams and Tucker. He was living with a sister in midtown in 2016 when he lost his job and needed money, and noticed Cleveland had cash on him, Collins said.
“He told me that he was robbing stores with Courtney,” Collins testified. That included the Oct. 10, 2016, robbery of a store called UR Choice on Warm Springs Road, and the Oct. 15, 2016, robbery of a food market on Weems Road where the clerk was wounded and his pistol stolen, he said.
That gun was the .40-caliber Tucker had at the 5 Corner Lotto shooting, police said.
Collins said he joined in an Oct. 22, 2016, robbery at the M&P store on St. Mary’s Road, where the clerk called a cab to take him home, and Collins, Cleveland and Williams followed in the Denali, kidnapping the clerk outside his residence.
They got the store keys and security code, and went back and robbed the business of more than $5,000 before releasing the clerk they’d kidnapped, Collins said.
Collins, Tucker and Huffman are not on trial with Cleveland and Williams because Huffman’s case is being handled separately, and Collins, 20, and Tucker, 19, have pleaded guilty to reduced charges.
Cleveland, 20, and Williams, 28, are being tried on these charges:
- Murder, attempted armed robbery and aggravated assault in the 5 Corner Lotto case.
- Armed robbery in the Oct. 10, 2016, UR Choice case.
- Armed robbery and aggravated assault in the Oct. 15, 2016, Weems Road case.
- Armed robbery and kidnapping in the Oct. 22, 2016, M&P Food Mart case.
- Armed robbery in a Jan. 13, 2017, ABC Food Mart case.
- Armed robbery in a second UR Choice case from Jan. 18, 2017.
The jury also must decide whether Williams is guilty of making terroristic threats to police Sgt. Anthony Locey on March 15, 2017. Locey was the lead investigator in the 5 Corner Lotto case.