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Testimony starts in murder trial of Wiley student

By Robin Y. Richardson
May 4, 2016 at 4 a.m.

Javonte Damone Sanders

The murder trial of Javonte Damone Sanders, accused of killing a Wiley College student at an unsanctioned house party and injuring two other people, kicked off a bit rocky Tuesday with lack of cooperation from four of the state's key witnesses.

One of the witnesses and alleged victims, Tommy Jones, was held in contempt of court for staying in the courtroom during testimony after being admonished to leave. He was taken into custody for disobeying the court's orders, which instruct all witnesses to stay outside of the courtroom during other witnesses' testimonies.

"Your conduct jeopardizes this entire trial," 71st District Judge Brad Morin warned Jones outside of the presence of the jury before discharging him.

While the judge dealt with Jones, District Attorney Coke Solomon issued a writ of attachment for three other witnesses - Trevian Leary, Courtney Hunter, and Eric Davis - who were no-shows for court.

The writ of attachment ordered law enforcement to locate the three and bring them before Judge Morin to show cause as to why they should not be held in contempt for not appearing as a subpoena witness as instructed.

"Those three people didn't show up, even though they were subpoenaed," Solomon told the News Messenger, noting the three are key witnesses, who are scheduled to testify in the trial for the state.

The defendant, 21-year-old Sanders, of Marshall, is standing trial for the Sept.13, 2014, murder of Wiley College basketball player Wesley Blackmon, 22, who was killed at a house party in the 300 block of Bishop Street. Sanders is also on trial for the aggravated assault of two others, Tommy Jones and Kasey Jones, who were injured at the same party.

Sanders pleaded not guilty Tuesday to all charges.

Opening arguments

In his opening arguments Tuesday, DA Solomon noted the shooting took place during a "kickback" party, hosted at the home of a couple of Wiley students, near Bellaire Apartments. A crowd of more than 200 revelers came for drinks, music and a good time.

"It was a pretty good party," Solomon said, noting the crowd consisted of both Wiley students and Marshall residents.

"They had a deejay, beer - a good time," he said.

Solomon said the defendant and his cousin, Trevian Leary, also attended the party. Sanders eventually made his way into the kitchen where the victim, Blackmon, happened to be.

"They play dice," Solomon said, noting the defendant gambled $100.

"Mr. Blackmon wins," Solomon said.

As Blackmon collects his money, the DA said an argument ensues on whether he's owed $5 or $100. Solomon said evidence will show that during the argument, Blackmon leans down and says something to Sanders.

"The defendant pulls out a gun and shoots him on the top of his head," Solomon said evidence will show.

The DA said Sanders allegedly shoots more times, hitting the surviving victims in the case, Tommy Jones and Kasey Jones.

"After that, Mr. Sanders proceeds over to where the victim is laying, shooting him one more time in the head," Solomon said. He then flees out the back door.

"A witness sees 'Vonte' with a gun. A witness gives an accurate description of the suspect," he said. "People that know him saw him do it."

"Ultimately, you're going to hear officers identify Mr. Sanders as the suspect," Solomon said.

In his opening arguments, defense attorney Edward Choy, representing Sanders, told jurors that it's crucial for his client to get a fair trial.

"It was crazy," he said of the party, arguing that police failed in their investigation in the midst of the chaos.

"They collected evidence, but during this mass chaos, there were mistakes made," Choy said.

"Shell casings were collected and sent off for analysis; yet, they weren't sent off for fingerprints," the defense attorney said.

"The police hone in on one individual, and then they give up," Choy said. "They allowed one individual to come in for an interview."

The defense attorney further argued that the dice used in the game that the defendant and victim allegedly played were never collected.

"Scrutinize every single witness," Choy advised jurors. "What's there… what's not there … That's your duty.

"Evidence is going to show you Javonte Sanders is not guilty beyond a reasonable doubt," Choy said.

Witnesses account

During Tuesday's testimony, officers described a chaotic scene when they responded to the site in reference to a shooting.

"It was a madhouse," Marshall Police Department Lt. John Johnson said. "The streets were full."

MPD Officer James McConnell, the first to arrive, said parking lots on the southeast and southwest corners were both packed with cars. Vehicles also lined both sides of Bishop Street.

"There were cars trying to get by, people running, cursing, screaming and some were crying," McConnell said.

"There were people being distraught, freaking out, wanting to be curious, being nosey - just all different emotions out there," Johnson added.

All officers said they couldn't get any cooperation, initially.

"One person, who didn't want to be identified, said the shooter had left. That's all I could get out of that person," McConnell said. "Another person told me the victim was inside the residence."

McConnell said after he forced his way through the crowd that was still in the yard, the front porch and in the residence, he found Blackmon in the kitchen area, on the kitchen floor.

"His head was (positioned) on the south wall," McConnell said, noting a blood stain was also on the wall where Blackmon's head was resting. A pool of blood had started to form around his head, McConnell added. He said he only noticed the bullet hole on the right side of the victim's cheek, at the time. A second gunshot wound was at the top of the right side of his head.

"He was in critical condition," McConnell said.

"People kept saying, 'That's my homeboy; my bro; my teammate," McConnell said, describing how hard it was to secure the scene. "They wanted to stay inside."

With the cooperation of four agencies - the sheriff's office, DPS, the city marshal and MPD - they were able to get everyone to leave.

Police collected 45-caliber shell casings from the kitchen, T-shirts and a ball cap, believed to be Blackmon's, splattered with blood and what was concluded as brain tissue.

Wiley student Daphine Lewis took the stand Tuesday, recalling how she saw Sanders in the kitchen with a gun the night of the party.

"That was the first party I'd been to," she told jurors, noting she had only been in Marshall, attending school for a month.

Lewis said she was in a room next to the kitchen when she heard gunshots. That's when everyone, including her, dropped to the floor.

When asked by Solomon what did she see when she looked into the kitchen, the witness hesitated, pausing before responding.

"I saw him with a gun - 'Vonte'," Lewis managed to say after being asked a second time.

"I didn't realize it was him at first," she said, noting she realized it a day or two later after seeing a "wanted" poster police had released through the media.

"I saw him holding a gun, but I didn't see him like do anything," she said.

Questions raised

Responding to questions from defense attorney Choy, who insinuated that it could be a case of mistaken identity, MPD officer LaKeldrick Adams said he is familiar with both Sanders and Sanders' cousin, Trevian Leary, but Leary is a little stockier.

When asked by Assistant District Attorney Kristin Kaye if Adams ever mixed the two up before, the officer said no.

"Javonte's lighter skin and Trevian's a lot darker skin, and Trevian's a lot stockier," Adams said.

MPD Sgt. Sarah Hodges, who responded to the hospital, following the shooting, noted the wounds she documented from the victims. She said the wound atop of Blackmon's head was about 3 millimeters in length. She also documented bullet wounds on Tommy Jones' left calf and right hip.

MPD Lt. Patrick Clayton testified to finding the same type of ammunition used at the shooting under the couch cushion of the defendant's bedroom, at his home, as well as in a coffee can on top of his entertainment system.

When asked by Choy if they ever searched Sanders' cousin Leary's home, Sgt. Hodges said no. When asked by Choy if she ever learn there were two weapons at the scene, Hodges said not that she can recall.

When asked by ADA Kaye if she thought she did a solid investigation, Hodges said yes.

"I believe I did the best I could," Hodges said.

Lt. Clayton testified that a lineup was presented of both Leary and Sanders to witnesses, but neither witness recognized Leary to be the suspect. Only Sanders was identified

Testimony in the trial continues at 9 a.m. today in the 71st District Courtroom.

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