Marvin Stockdale slumped in the witness chair, cupping a water bottle between his cuffed hands.
He was in court to testify to admissions he says his cellmate, Jason “Pockets” Devers, made about involvement in the Jan. 6, 2018, shooting death of Army Sgt. and Omaha native Kyle LeFlore outside the Reign Lounge on 30th Street, just south of Interstate 680.
Leaning forward so his mouth was a mere inch from the microphone, he seemed content and intent on testifying. Devers’ trial this week marked the second time Stockdale had testified about purported confessions by a murder defendant, but he denied that he was expecting any reduction in his own separate felony case of making terroristic threats and gun possession.
One benefit of his testimony: a cold bottle of water. He sure enjoyed it. Asked a question, he’d take a swig, crinkle the plastic, lean into the microphone and answer.
“You wanna finish your water?” Assistant Public Defender Doug Johnson said at one point. “I’ll wait.”
“I’m coo,” Stockdale said. “I’ll set it over here. Go ahead.”
Courtroom 502 was a familiar, if not comfortable, spot for the Kansas City man. Just three weeks ago, he testified that Michael Benson had confided in him that he had “smoked that dude” — a reference to James Womack, an Omaha truck driver killed during a rush-hour traffic dispute at 60th and L Streets.
That, combined with surveillance video, unique ammunition found in Benson’s truck and girlfriends’ testimony, helped convict Benson of second-degree murder.
As one courthouse attorney watched Stockdale shuffle into the courtroom in an orange jumpsuit and leg chains, the attorney dubbed Stockdale’s return as “season two of Jailhouse Confessions.”
Devers’ trial, expected to wrap up this week, is following a script similar to the Benson case: Stockdale’s testimony. Accounts from a girlfriend who was with Devers that night. Surveillance video of Devers at the bar. Cellphone data tracing Devers to the area. Potentially incriminating statements Devers made to police. And a gold chain LeFlore had been wearing that night, found among Devers’ belongings by a former girlfriend.
Devers’ defense team — Johnson and Assistant Public Defender Kyle Melia — cautioned jurors against accepting the script. Throughout the case, they have pointed to Larry Goynes as the culprit.
Authorities originally charged Goynes, 28, with first-degree murder — alleging that he was the one who shot LeFlore during a robbery. But prosecutors dropped his charges after a key witness in the case wavered.
Prosecutors Nissa Jones and Mike Jensen, deputy Douglas County attorneys, think that they have ample evidence to convict Devers of first-degree murder under a law that holds accomplices accountable if someone dies during the commission of a felony. To that end, as they began to wrap up their case, they called Stockdale to the stand earlier this week.
Stockdale testified, among other things, that Devers told him that he had been talking with two women at the bar. At some point, LeFlore approached and bought drinks for the women, whom LeFlore knew as friends. In the process, he pulled out a roll of cash.
Devers said he spotted the cash and the necklaces LeFlore was wearing, Stockdale said. The cellmate told Stockdale that he alerted Goynes to the idea that LeFlore could be a prime target for a “lick,” or robbery.
Stockdale said Devers told him that he was miffed that LeFlore interrupted the conversation at the table.
“He said, ‘I’m thinking to myself, this dude is rude as (expletive),’ ” Stockdale testified. “ ‘I don’t say (expletive) because they’re not my (women). Obviously, they go to the highest bidder.’ ”
Stockdale said he responded to his cellmate with: “Damn, bro, he took your action that night.”
Stockdale said Devers responded: “I wasn’t tripping off those (women). ... Getting (dates) wasn’t a problem. Dude was just rude as to how he went about it.”
One of the women testified that LeFlore wasn’t trying to pick them up; he was simply buying drinks for old friends.
According to Stockdale, Devers said he found Goynes and “told him I had a lick for him.”
“I told him to shoot if he acted tough,” Devers said, according to Stockdale. “I just didn’t think my little dumba** cousin would kill him.”
LeFlore, who had served in Iraq, Afghanistan and South Korea and was home on a break before he returned to an Army base in Arizona, left the bar by himself. He was shot in the forearm and the heart near his SUV in the parking lot. He had a contusion on his lip, possibly the result of a struggle. The robber ripped his necklaces off his body and took off.
Johnson left little unchallenged as he scrutinized Stockdale’s story. He noted that Stockdale is facing more than three decades, real time, behind bars — and suggested that he has motive to lie. He mocked Stockdale’s suggestion that he took notes contemporaneously with Devers’ purported confession.
He noted that Stockdale had testified just three weeks ago in the Benson case. In that case, Stockdale said Benson confessed to him as they both sat in a courthouse holding cell.
Johnson also pointed out that Stockdale once told an Omaha police detective that, upon hearing Benson’s alleged confession, “I just said, ‘This is my way out of here.’ ”
Stockdale said he didn’t remember saying that. Johnson played the tape for him.
Johnson asked him if he understood how lucky he was to get two purported confessions from inmates.
Stockdale shook his head.
“I don’t wanna say ‘lucky’ because I ain’t expecting nothin’,” Stockdale said.
“You’re not expecting anything?” Johnson asked.
“I mean, if somebody wanna help me out, they can,” Stockdale said. “But I ain’t asked for nothing.”
Johnson suggested something else: that police were using Stockdale as a roving confession taker. The defense attorney highlighted the fact that an Omaha police detective approached Stockdale and asked him to keep his ears open around inmate Forrest Cox, a 30-year-old man charged with killing an Omaha man during a marijuana deal in March 2017.
Authorities in Orange County, California, have come under fire over allegations that they set up a jail cell where informants conveniently would get placed with inmates in the hopes that they would confess to their cellmate.
Stockdale acknowledged that a detective approached him about Cox.
“I do remember that,” Stockdale said. “And I ain’t heard nothing (from Cox).”
Why testify? Johnson asked.
Stockdale took a swig of his water. He leaned forward.
“Just human life.”