As the trial over Devante Jordan's 2011 slaying continued Thursday, his killer's lawyer tried to lay the legal groundwork that could lead to an acquittal for his client.
That is, if a jury agrees with him.
First, though, a judge has to allow the jury to even consider that Marquinn Jones-Nelson shot Jordan in self-defense during a small, smoky party at a Mountain View apartment March 24, 2011. The lawyer, Jon-Marc Petersen, so far has not shown that his client had a reason to feel threatened by Jordan, Judge Gregory Miller said Thursday.
Prosecutors say Jones-Nelson, 23, is guilty of murder because he planned to shoot and kill Jordan, 19. He thought Jordan was talking to the police about Jones-Nelson or his associates, they say.
Parrish Harris, 23 and Jones-Nelson's friend, is also on trial for weapon misconduct related to the Jordan killing. A third man, Dorian Topps, pleaded guilty before the trial to evidence tampering for helping dispose of the murder weapon: a rusty .38-caliber revolver.
A witness to the shooting, Dionte Wren, testified Wednesday that Jordan acted aggressive toward Jones-Nelson, who was smaller. Wren also said the two men argued about "snitching" to police and that Jordan never pushed or punched Jones-Nelson -- he had not even raised his hands or reached for anything before Jones-Nelson pulled out the revolver and shot him in the chest, Wren said.
On the witness stand again Thursday, Wren told Petersen, the defense attorney, that Jordan was known as a good fighter and was "towering over" Jones-Nelson.
"I didn't know what was going to happen," Wren said. "It was a tense situation. He just looked like he was going to fight him."
After the shooting, Wren ran out of the apartment with Topps and Jones-Nelson and left in the same car he'd arrived in: a Chevrolet Impala driven by Jones-Nelson's girlfriend, Katina Mitchell. It was quiet in the car as they drove, Wren said.
"Any discussion of, 'Yay, our plan went well, we did it?' " Petersen asked.
"No," Wren said, looking a little surprised at the question.
The issue of prior bad blood between Jones-Nelson and Jordan caused Judge Miller to ask the jurors to leave the courtroom for a short time, while the lawyers hashed out exactly what Petersen was allowed to ask Wren next. It was all relevant to how Jones-Nelson felt threatened by Jordan, Petersen said.
Jordan had run up to Jones-Nelson's car months before the shooting, opened the door and punched Jones-Nelson so hard it knocked him unconscious, Wren said. But Wren seemed to know about the incident only through what others had told him, which would be hearsay and not allowed as testimony unless it met certain exceptions. One exception, the judge said, is if evidence already presented in the trial met the threshold for a self-defense argument.
"I'm finding that the threshold has not been met -- yet," Miller said. "That issue is not over. Mr. Wren is not the right witness for that issue."
So Petersen was not allowed, in the jury's presence, to ask about the earlier fight. Testimony from Mitchell, the accused killer's girlfriend at the time, followed.
Mitchell said on the witness stand Thursday that when her group arrived at the apartment, Wren, known as "Dizzy," was the one that told her to back into the parking spot, something she did not normally do.
The prosecutor, James Fayette, asked Mitchell if she remembered telling a grand jury in 2011 that Jones-Nelson was actually the one who told her to back the car in. The prosecutor has said having the car pointed out was part of the planned hit on Jordan, so Jones-Nelson could get away faster. When Fayette read back Mitchell's grand jury testimony, she agreed she had told the grand jury that Jones-Nelson, known as "Q" or "Quinn," gave her that order.
"Was it Dizzy that told you to back in, or Quinn that told you to back in?" Fayette asked again Thursday.
"I'll stick with Dizzy," Mitchell said after a pause.
After fleeing from the shooting scene, they went driving, Mitchell said. Near a South Anchorage bridge, Topps got out and ditched the revolver, wrapped in a sock, she said. They drove around most of the night to find a safe place to sleep with a friend of Jones-Nelson, Mitchell said.
"Did you feel you were free to leave?" Fayette asked.
"My car was hot. It was an accessory to murder."
Jones-Nelson later told her, "If anybody asks anything, you just weren't there," Mitchell said.
The next day, police officers met Mitchell at her house. They were asking about the shooting, she said.
The trial is expected to continue at least another two weeks.
Reach Casey Grove at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4589.
By CASEY GROVE