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Parties present closing arguments in Dimond Center shooting trial

Jerzy Shedlock
Terence Gray appears in an Anchorage courtroom on Thursday, June 12, 2014 for opening statements in his murder trial. Gray is charged with the 2010 murder of Edwing Matos, who was shot and killed inside the Dimond Center shopping mall. Closing arguments in the trial concluded Wednesday. Loren Holmes photo

A state prosecutor aimed to discredit claims of self-defense in Anchorage Superior Court on Wednesday as the case of Terence Clyde Gray, accused of shooting Edwing Matos to death at an Anchorage shopping mall in February 2010, drew closer to its conclusion.

Before assistant district attorney Adam Alexander delved into witness statements and a laundry list of evidence presented over a monthlong trial, he explained to jurors why the defendant’s claim of self-defense does not apply under Alaska law. He argued Gray was the initial aggressor, and his fear of imminent injury was not “objectively reasonable.”

Instead, Gray planned to execute two people but ended up only slaying Matos because his gun jammed, Alexander said.

Jurors must decide what led to that moment in the Dimond Center mall, which left 29-year-old Matos dead. The state says it was a cold-blooded killing after a dispute over the theft of a PlayStation. The defense says the shooting was motivated by self-defense, as Gray was threatened and believed his life was in danger.

Gray faces charges of first-degree murder, attempted murder and assault. He appeared in court wearing a black and tan dress shirt. He hunched over the defense table resting his chin on his left palm as the parties presented their closing arguments.

State: Defendant saw shooting as a ‘fix’ to problems

Alexander asked the jury to keep in mind a comment uttered by Gray on a jailhouse phone: “I made a mistake and had to fix it.”

The mistake was getting involved in the burglary of Matos’ home, the prosecutor said. Money from a shoebox, the gaming system and other miscellaneous items were stolen several days prior to the shooting. The fix? Arranging the execution of two men who discovered Gray pilfered their belongings, he said.

Alexander relied on Gray’s trial testimony to poke holes in the defense’s theory of self-defense. He laid out three days, from burglary to Matos’ death, in chronological order, often reciting that testimony.

With the help of his uncle Dennis Johnson, Matos tracked the PlayStation back to Gray. After retrieving the game console, the defense argued, Matos showed up at Gray’s home and threatened him with a gun. Alexander said that wasn't possible; he showed an overhead satellite image of Anchorage with cell phone tower locations. Investigators tracked Matos’ movements using phone records and said the confrontation couldn’t have taken place unless Matos drove across town in 90 seconds.

Several days after the burglary, Matos and Johnson agreed to meet up with Gray, somewhere in public. Gray’s first choice was Costco off Dimond Boulevard and C Street. However, Gray’s disguise drew the attention of Costco customers. An image displayed in court showed the defendant wearing a wig and mustache; he lingered around the store’s entrance with his hood pulled up and gloves over his hands.

Alexander said Gray testified the getup was a leftover Halloween costume from the previous year, but an image taken from Gray’s seized laptop contained a picture from the Halloween in question. In that photo, also shown in court, Gray is wearing a Darth Vader helmet.

Having drawn the attention of customers, Alexander said, Gray chose another meeting spot, the nearby Dimond Center. Gray then went to the mall and hung around a pull tab kiosk near a comic book shop, the agreed-upon location.

One witness, the kiosk employee, asked Gray if she could help him. Gray simply responded “no,” Alexander said, adding he could have asked the woman to call 911.

“There’s no evidence to suggest he couldn’t have retreated” if he truly felt endangered, Alexander said. “(Gray) had no interest in retreating. He still had a problem to fix.”

Gray led Matos out of the comic book store to a bench where the two spoke, a calm exchange of words caught by a camera inside a barber shop, according to court testimony. Alexander argued Gray was in control of the situation.

Matos was blocked from view by a column separating the barber shop’s entrance from a window. In images and videos, the murder victim’s elbow is all that’s visible. Gray testified Matos pulled up his jacket to retrieve a weapon, and he fired in self-defense.

Alexander called this version of events into question. Matos was talking on the phone at the time, so based on the security footage he must have been lounging with his arm on the back of the bench, talking on the phone, and “with his third arm he’s threatening (Gray) with a gun,” the prosecutor said.

Gray shot Matos in the face; the victim wasn’t even looking at the shooter, Alexander said. He then fired at Matos’ midsection; the bullet pierced Matos’ heart and both lungs, he said.

All the while, Johnson had been watching his nephew and Gray. Alexander said Johnson made his presence known to warn the suspected burglar to not try anything.

Alexander displayed photos of Matos and his facial wounds; the victim’s family sitting in the courtroom tried to hold back cries as the pictures were displayed.

Recalling Gray’s testimony once again, Alexander said he asked Gray if his actions were reasonable. “It’s not office suit and tie level, it’s street level,” Gray allegedly responded.

‘Stuck a gun in his face’

Public defender Brendan Kelley said the shooting happened because Matos told Gray he’d be leaving the mall with him. Matos also told someone on the phone he’d have to shoot Gray, Kelley said.

The defense attorney argued Johnson had called Gray in the days leading up to the shooting, demanded $10,000 in cash within 24 hours and commented that the walls of Gray’s home were thin.

Matos did in fact show up on Gray’s doorstep, Kelley said. He presented his own cell phone data, arguing there was a clear 90-minute gap in the call records. Matos turned his phone off, he said.

“He did come and see Mr. Gray,” Kelley said, and Matos “stuck a gun in his face.”

As for the confrontation at the mall, Kelley described Johnson’s movements as “lurking in the background.”

There is clear and convincing evidence Matos brought a gun into the mall, Kelley said. Shelton McCarty, Johnson’s son, who had been waiting outside, entered the mall when people started to scurry outside following the shooting. Kelley said McCarty distracted witnesses and retrieved Matos’ weapon.

McCarty pursued Gray with a gun in hand. An off-duty officer who had heard the gunshots initially saw McCarty running through the mall with a gun drawn and apprehended him, but witnesses told the officer they had grabbed the wrong person.

Kelley said McCarty, who initially denied knowing his relative in initial interviews with police, displayed actions that shows the men had something more sinister in store for Gray than a talk about the stolen PlayStation.

The jury began its deliberations Wednesday afternoon.