For all the big things alleged to have happened in the Marcus Short case, it was the little things that attorneys focused on as they addressed jurors in opening statements of his double-homicide trial Monday.
Little things like:
» A price tag that had Short’s fingerprint on it. Found at the scene of the first slaying.
» Paper dealer plates — white background, blue lettering — on a white Chevy Monte Carlo seen fleeing the scene of the first homicide.
» The fact that Short returned to his grandmother’s house, as requested, shortly after police arrived. His attorney said it’s proof that Short had no knowledge of the damning items inside the house.
Both prosecutors and defense attorneys took jurors through those little details during opening statements of Short’s monthlong trial in the August 2015 deaths of DePrecia Neelon, 23, and Garion Johnson, 19.
What they didn’t point to: allegations that Short tried to orchestrate a scheme to bribe a juror in his first trial in May. A judge declared a mistrial after those allegations surfaced and has barred jurors from hearing any testimony on those charges.
For that matter, Douglas County Public Defender Tom Riley didn’t spend any time in his opening statements delving into the years it took for two homicide detectives to book evidence and file reports in the case — delays that resulted in both detectives being moved from their assignments.
Prosecutor Sean Lavery ended his opening statements with a nod toward the detectives’ delays — and the fact that Riley is expected to skewer the detectives later in the trial. Lavery said the delays were unnecessary and unfortunate but ultimately didn’t change the facts of the case.
“In a perfect world, this is where I would stop,” Lavery said after outlining the evidence against Short. “But this isn’t a perfect world.”
Perhaps no case illustrates that fact more than the deaths of Neelon and Johnson.
The run of gang infighting started with the July 2015 shooting death of Randell Busch, a peer of Short and Preston Pope, the other man charged in the killings.
Authorities say Johnson was suspected of shooting Busch with a semi-automatic rifle. The shooting exposed a rift between Johnson, 19, and older members of the gang, such as Pope, 28, and Short, 29.
Then came Aug. 5, 2015. A man matching Pope’s description walked up to Johnson and another gang member who were sitting in a car outside Neelon’s house. When he pulled out a gun and squeezed the trigger, Johnson swatted it and raced away, literally running out of one of his shoes. The gun jammed — and Johnson survived.
The next day, Aug. 6, 2015, two gunmen walked down an alley leading to Neelon’s house at 2021 Pinkney St. One of them started a fire in the back of the house. Neelon, 23, pulled her 4-year-old daughter away from the back door and emerged to try to douse the flames. She was shot several times and died on the back stoop.
Two days later, on Aug. 8, 2015, Johnson was hanging out at a girlfriend’s house on Fontenelle Boulevard. Not wanting visitors, the girlfriend asked Johnson to move her car into a garage so it would appear that no one was home. As Johnson slid into the driver’s seat, two gunmen pounced. Johnson was shot several times, and the car began to spin out, cutting across yards before running into a neighbor’s garage. He died soon after.
Johnson’s girlfriend told police that both gunmen were wearing black pants and hoodies — one with a large red N on the front. Other witnesses described the gunmen fleeing in a white Monte Carlo with paper dealer plates.
As detectives investigated, a homicide sergeant recalled that investigators had found a price tag for a pair of gloves near the scene of Neelon’s death. On the price tag: a fingerprint that detectives traced to Short.
The sergeant sent detectives to Short’s last known address. In the driveway: a white Monte Carlo with paper dealer plates. In Short’s bedroom: two dark sweatshirts and two pairs of mud-splashed pants. And both guns that were used to kill Neelon and Johnson.
Lavery and fellow prosecutor Michael Jensen say those items add up to guilt.
Riley pointed to what he says prosecutors don’t have: any reliable witnesses who place Short at either scene. He noted that a neighbor identified another neighborhood gang member as the second shooter, in addition to Pope. That gang member has never been charged.
Riley said Short rushed to his grandma’s house after she told him that police were there because he didn’t have anything to hide. Little did Short know that the shooters had stashed the weapons and their clothing in his bedroom, the attorney said.
“They don’t ask if they can use your house, if they can use your car,” Riley said. “They tell you.”