Tensions in the double-murder trial of Charles Trotter spilled into a melee at the Douglas County Courthouse that surged across the building’s rotunda Wednesday.
But the larger question in the gang-connected case was whether the tumult led to another slaying before the trial’s first break for lunch.
Jarrell Haynes, 22, was shot about 10:45 a.m. near 16th Street and Victor Avenue, just south of Lake Street. He died during surgery. Court spectators and law enforcement officials told The World-Herald that Haynes had been on the fourth floor of the courthouse in the hours before he was gunned down and may have tried to attend the opening of Trotter’s trial. Trotter is charged in the deaths of rival gang members Dexter Joseph and Marcel Lovejoy in an apartment near 99th and Fort Streets.
Haynes is a cousin of Lovejoy and is believed to be associated with a Bloods gang. Those close to him have frequently been touched by violence.
A woman with whom Haynes had a child was one of three people slain at 34th and Parker Streets in 2015. His father was shot to death in 2014.
Haynes had attempted to enter the Trotter trial but was turned away because he didn’t have identification, said his aunt Jewell Shields, who raised Haynes and calls him her son.
Upon leaving the courthouse to head home, Haynes had spoken with another man on the main floor, said Shields, 65.
Haynes left the courthouse but immediately called Shields and said the man had threatened to kill him. Police confirmed Thursday that there was an altercation at the courthouse between Haynes and another man.
When he got to the house at 1634 Victor Ave., where he lived with his grandmother, Haynes went outside to smoke a cigarette.
According to the grandmother, a black car drove past the house and the people inside the car fired shots.
Haynes was able to duck into the dining room, Shields said, but he had been shot in his side. His grandmother gave him a cloth to put pressure on the wound and called 911.
“Next thing she knew, his eyes were blinking, blinking blinking,” Shields said. “ He was trying to tell her something. He couldn’t get it out.”
Shields said Haynes, who had two boys each 2 years old, always told family and friends that he loved them. He got caught up in a gang because of where he lived, she said.
Shields said she knows the man who spoke to Haynes at the courthouse.
“Whoever the killer is that knows Jarrell, they know I love him,” she said. “They know they hurt me, they know they hurt my family.”
Omaha police investigators were checking courthouse surveillance video to try to identify anyone who may have followed Haynes from the downtown building, a law enforcement official said. Police had not announced an arrest late Wednesday.
A prayerwalk scheduled for Thursday night was postponed by organizers after talking with Omaha police gang unit officers about the heightened tensions.
Douglas County Public Defender Tom Riley mentioned the slaying’s “possible ties” to Trotter’s case as he discussed the possibility of the judge declaring a mistrial.
Instead, Douglas County District Judge Leigh Ann Retelsdorf ordered that jurors be sequestered in an Omaha hotel for the rest of the two-week trial. Jurors will not have access to television, smartphones or computers that would allow them access to reporters’ accounts of the case.
Sequestration is rare but not unprecedented. Riley, a defense attorney for four decades, rattled off three trials during which jurors were sequestered for the duration.
Jurors weren’t the only ones who needed sequestration Wednesday.
After opening statements in Trotter’s trial, people who had filled the gallery spilled out of the courtroom for a noon recess.
As they filtered out, spectators engaged in a massive melee near a fourth-floor railing.
In one cellphone video obtained by The World-Herald, six separate fistfights can be seen. A large man in a red sweatshirt slams another man’s head against a wall.
A woman in a yellow shirt sucker-punches a woman from behind. A young man pulls off his shirt and chases another young man around a railing, swinging wildly.
Sheriff’s deputies sprayed Mace and tackled and handcuffed four people.
Three men and a woman were booked on suspicion of disorderly conduct, obstructing a governmental operation and resisting arrest, all misdemeanors, said Capt. Wayne Hudson, who directs security at the courthouse.
One attorney in the case noted the irony of the turn of events at a courthouse where only law enforcement officials can carry weapons.
“If only these guys would do it with their fists in the first place, they wouldn’t have a murder trial to attend,” he said.
Trotter’s case is laced with gang-related tension. In the January 2015 slaying, Trotter, a 37th Street Crip who is the son of gang-prevention activist Barbara Robinson, is accused of walking into a birthday party and shooting and killing Joseph and Lovejoy, who were South Family gang members.
Katherinea Page, a sister-in-law of Joseph, said she could feel tension building in the packed courtroom.
“People couldn’t hold in the pain anymore,” Page said. “So somebody said something — and the next thing you know, it was a big brawl.
“You’ve got to understand. It was two homicides, so we have (two) families and everybody is emotional. So of course it’s going to be a heated situation.”
Several longtime attorneys said they had never seen any courthouse beefs spill so directly to the streets.
Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine said he had yet to be briefed on Haynes’ homicide and did not yet know whether police could connect the trial and killing.
Haynes was shot more than once in the stomach after a midmorning recess in the trial. The front door of his house was shot out, and the porch appeared to be covered in glass.
He was taken in grave condition to Creighton University Medical Center, where he died.
Verna Vasser said the mother of one of Haynes' sons is Jakela Foster, who was shot dead on Jan. 24, 2015. She was among eight people shot during a party.
Haynes’ father, Johnny Haynes, was slain in June 2014. He had been raking leaves and was found dead in his driveway outside his house at 36th Street and Patrick Avenue. Police have not announced an arrest in that case.
Jarrell Haynes also was fired upon in January 2014, when an assailant shot toward the Ford Explorer that he was driving, according to a police report. He was not hit.
“It said something on Facebook that somebody was supposed to have snitched or something like that, that’s what they say ... it was about,” Vasser said, referring to Haynes’ killing Wednesday.
Page was visibly upset by Jarrell Haynes’ death.
But she had no problem with the brawl.
“I was happy,” she said of the brawl. “I have to be honest with you, that was my brother (in-law) who got murdered, so I have to say I was happy.”
“Our family is overpowering ... the courtroom. So I was happy.”
World-Herald photographer Chris Machian and staff writer Emerson Clarridge contributed to this report.