The first time he took the stand in a double-murder trial in March, he was spooked, skittish and virtually silent.
The state’s star witness buried his head in his hands and, asked what he saw on Jan. 3, 2015, several times mumbled some variation of “I don’t remember.” A court official called him “scared to death” — and it was understandable.
His testimony at the trial of Charles Trotter was interrupted by a courthouse melee and an outside-the-courthouse shooting — eventually leading Trotter’s first trial to end in a mistrial.
Friday, the young man took the stand in Trotter’s second trial — deliberate, descriptive and even a bit defiant.
The 25-year-old Omaha transplant matter-of-factly described watching Trotter enter an apartment in the Grandridge Apartments near 100th and Fort Streets and kill two men, 26-year-olds Marcel Lovejoy and Dexter Joseph.
The witness said he was sitting on the floor of the barren apartment where about 15 people had gathered.
The apartment had no furniture and few furnishings but plenty of booze. It was known for “kickbacks” — slang for a party where people come to hang out, drink and smoke marijuana, according to one of the partygoers.
The young man — the newspaper isn’t identifying him because he reportedly has been threatened — said he went to the apartment with three friends. He grabbed a shot of hard alcohol, Fireball, and planted himself on the carpet near the kitchen.
It would be a front-row seat.
About 15 to 20 minutes later, he said, Trotter and a group of men — authorities allege that it included since-convicted killer Akeem Jones — entered the apartment.
A short time later, Lovejoy and Joseph entered. Lovejoy was with his girlfriend and their baby.
The girlfriend went to the back with the baby. Joseph went to the kitchen.
Lovejoy, a tall, lanky man, was hanging out in the corner near a woman who was playing music on a stereo.
“I could see everything,” the witness said. “Everybody was chilling right then.”
Still, the 25-year-old witness said he could sense the tension in the room.
“The facial expressions looked, you know what I’m saying, awkward,” the man testified. “I think (people) got paranoid.”
There was reason. Rival Crips and Bloods gang members had gathered. Authorities haven’t established a motive, but some accounts have indicated there was an exchange over a disrespectful video that someone had posted online.
Within a couple minutes of Lovejoy’s and Joseph’s arrival, the witness said, a man dressed in blue jeans and a gray sweatshirt raised a gun and fired at Lovejoy, who was standing in the corner.
Lovejoy “kind of bottled up,” the witness said. “Like, you know, he was hit.”
Prosecutor John Alagaban asked whether the witness could identify the gunman.
“Yes,” he said. “Right here. Wearing a plaid shirt.” He raised his hand and motioned in the direction of Trotter.
Alagaban asked what happened next.
The witness said the gunman made a beeline for the kitchen.
Inside the kitchen, he said, Joseph was hiding behind a woman.
“He was trying to use her as a shield,” the witness said.
The 25-year-old man testified that the gunman reached around the woman and fired at Joseph.
“He just dropped,” the man said.
Lovejoy didn’t fall right away. Holding his side, he joined the rush for the apartment door.
He collapsed at the threshold.
“I was still sitting down because I guess you could say I panicked,” the witness said.
Two women at the party rushed to Lovejoy and Joseph. In earlier testimony at the trial, which continues next week, one of the women, Garion Woods, described trying to comfort both men.
She talked with both while waiting for paramedics to arrive. Lovejoy struggled to mumble something back to her, but she couldn’t make it out.
Woods, who couldn’t identify the gunman, said she went from Lovejoy to Joseph, her other friend.
“I held him in my lap and I was talking to him, but he wasn’t responding,” Woods said. “He was gone.”
A woman at the party noticed a state ID card on the floor. It belonged to Akeem Jones, who witnesses say entered the apartment with Trotter. Jones has since been convicted of the August 2009 shooting death of Gary Holmes.
Trotter’s attorney, Douglas County Public Defender Tom Riley, on Friday grilled the man who fingered his client as the shooter.
Riley argues that the shooter wasn’t Trotter, pointing out that witnesses have described the gunman as wearing a plain, gray sweatshirt.
Video from a nearby gas station taken before the shooting showed Trotter in a sweatshirt with a large Adidas logo on the front.
Another man at the party — a friend of the witness — was photographed the next day at Omaha Police Headquarters. He had on a plain, gray button-up sweatshirt.
Riley repeatedly suggested that the witness was covering for his friend.
At one point, Riley pressed the witness on why he shut down his Facebook account the day after the shooting. He also questioned whether the 25-year-old man was using other people’s Facebook accounts to monitor discussions of the shooting.
“Why would I?” the witness asked.
“You really shouldn’t ask me questions,” Riley said. “Why did you shut your Facebook page down?”
“Because I was getting threats.”
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