Gun supplier testifies against Bendy in P.T. Cole Park murder trial

Gun supplier testifies against Bendy in P.T. Cole Park murder trial

 Day 4 of Dennis Bendy's murder trial got underway Friday morning in the Smith County 241st District Court. Bendy is one of three men accused of taking part in a gang-related shootout, the crossfire of which killed 20-year-old Briana Young at Tyler's P.T. Cole Park on July 30, 2013.

Day 1's opening arguments saw District Attorney Matt Bingham describe bendy to the jury as a gang member who lawlessly took a public park and made it a death trap. A gang expert from the Tyler Police Department testified that Bendy is a documented member of the Westside Rolling 60s gang in Tyler. Young's son's aunt, who was at the park the night of the shooting, testified that Young was still alive and gasping for air several minutes after being shot in the chest and leg.

Day 2 consisted largely of testimony from two self-described gang members. Rakheem Goldstein of the Westside Rolling 60s is Bendy's co-defendant in Young's alleged murder. He said he was there the night of the shooting, described the events, and told jurors Bendy did fire a gun into the park. Goldstein said a rival gang member, K.J. Wilson Hurd, was the target of the shooting. A friend of Hurd's named Darrian Lee, also describing himself as a gang member, took the stand to recount his version of the shooting.

Day 3's major testimony came from a network engineer employed by Sprint. Bendy's phone at the time of the shooting ran on Sprint's network. The engineer testified that it's highly likely Bendy's phone was in the near vicinity of the park at the time of the shooting. A Tyler Police officer testified that she was the one who collected clothing from Young's three-year-old son at the scene because it was bloody. She said the boy was upset after having seen his mother killed in the park that night.

Investigator Craig Williams with the Tyler Police Department resumed his testimony Friday. Bingham asked him to testify as to the veracity of a few basic facts in the case, including the fact that Young had been shot by a firearm, that such an act would constitute murder under Texas law and that shooting at someone without hitting them is considered aggravated assault.

On cross-examination defense attorney Rex Thompson asked whether Williams knew if Young's body had been moved after death. He said he could not be sure, having not been there at the time, but that blood trail evidence indicated that the body had not been moved.

Williams said the evidence supported previous testimony indicating that Young had been at the park's red picnic table and then ran to the east as shots rang out.

Williams testified that investigators found nearly twenty shell casings at the scene. They were concentrated in the road on Mockingbird (where Bendy is alleged to have been while shooting) and in a northwestern section of the park (where co-defendant Elisha Williams is alleged to have been. He further testified that bullets were found embedded in the ground, in trees and elsewhere.Bingham asked about trouble investigators encountered in trying to test the guns for fingerprints and DNA. Williams said the fact that the guns had been buried in dirt contributed to a general deterioration of the evidence on the guns. He further said that testing procedures for fingerprints are often destructive to DNA and vice versa, describing a catch 22 in this case that resulted in a decision to test for DNA. The results were inconclusive.

Tyler Police Detective Kenneth Gardner was the next witness. He testified that he conducted the search of Dennis Bendy's silver Lincoln.

Assistant District Attorney Kenneth Biggs produced three evidence bags containing white t-shirts. Gardner testified that they were the shirts he found in the Lincoln.

"Do you know why we're offering these pieces of evidence?" Biggs asked.

"Yes, because the shooters were wearing white shirts that night," Gardner said.

Williams said he was later involved in the arrest of Elisha Williams, but that was the extent of his involvement in the case. He then testified to the same basic questions put to Investigator Williams regarding shootings and Texas law.

On cross-examination, Thompson asked Williams to clarify the date of the search of Bendy's silver Lincoln. He said it occurred on August 23, 2013.

"And when you searched Mr. Bendy's vehicle you found three white t-shirts?" Thompson asked.

"Yes sir," Gardner said.

"And can you tell us where they were found?" Thompson asked.

"There was one in the back seat and two in the trunk," Gardner said.

Thompson asked Gardner if he was familiar with the surveillance video from the Food Fast on Vine depicting Bendy and Goldstein trading the Lincoln for Madeline Wallace's white Elantra. Gardner said he was.

"Are those the t-shirts he and Goldstein were wearing in the video?" Thompson asked.

"I don't know," Gardner said.

"You can't even tell the jury if Dennis bendy has ever had those t-shirts on in his life, can you?" Thompson asked.

"No sir," Gardner said.

Gardner was dismissed.

With the jury out of the courtroom, Stephen Whitemon took the stand. Whitemon had been identified in previous testimony as one of the sources for and disposers of guns in the case, specifically the Ruger allegedly used by Elisha Williams. His street names are "Stick" and "Slick."

Bingham said Whitemon was not currently charged with a crime, but that he expected testimony to expose Whitemon to potential charges of evidence tampering. Bingham also said he was requesting immunity for Whitemon as far as the day's testimony, barring his office from using said testimony against Whitemon later. The immunity does not cover any potential perjury on Whitemon's part during this trial.

Judge Jack Skeen, Jr. told Whitemon he had a Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. Whitemon said his desire was to continue with the testimony.With the jury back in the courtroom, Bingham asked Whitemon to repeat on the record what he had said to Bingham in private just a few minutes before.

"I also provided the AK-47 to them," Whitemon said.

"Who was there when that happened?" Bingham asked.

"I know Bendy and then I don't know the other guy's name," Whitemon said.

Bingham produced a photo of Rakheem Goldstein. Whitemon said that was the man who was with Bendy when he gave them the guns and that he knew him by his street name of "Booby."

Whitemon reiterated that he had provided Bendy and Goldstein a Ruger pistol and an AK-47 the day of the shooting.

"How long after that shooting did he come to you with the [Ruger]?" Bingham asked.

"It was late," Whitemon said.

"The same night of the shooting?" Bingham asked.

"Maybe early the next morning," Whitemon said.

Whitemon testified that Elisha Williams came to him with others in a car. He said he did not see who else was in the car, but that Williams quickly handed him the Ruger and left. Whitemon said he decided to put a thin layer of dirt over it in the back yard so that no one else living there would come into contact with it.

"When you gave them the guns earlier in the day, what were they driving?" Bingham asked.

"A little white car," Whitemon said, echoing numerous accounts of Bendy and Goldstein travelling to get the guns in a white Hyundai Elantra. He subsequently reviewed a photo of the Elantra, said it appeared to be the car they were driving, and testified that Bendy was the one behind the wheel.

Whitemon said the pair did not call before stopping by. Instead, he said, they just showed up and asked if he had any guns.

"Did you find out at some point that they were suspects in this?" Bingham asked.

"Yes sir," Whitemon said.

"Did that concern you?" Bingham asked.

"Yes it did. I had been hoping [the gun] wouldn't work," Whitemon said.

Whitemon said police had asked early on in about the Ruger, but that they were never interested in the AK-47. He said his impression was that it was never fired that night (a supposition well-supported by other testimony) and thought it was irrelevant.
Whitemon said he was concerned for his safety, no longer lived in Smith County and did not want people to know where he lived.

"You're concerned someone might hurt you?" Bingham asked.

"Or my kids," Whitemon said.

"Why?" Bingham asked.

"Because I gave away a murder weapon!" Whitemon said.

At Bingham's direction, Whitemon testified that he had been "holed up" for the duration of the trial as part of the prosecution's attempt to insure that he did not hear about any other testimony in the case.

On cross-examination defense attorney Don Davidson asked how old Whitemon's children are.

"They're 2, 3 and 4," Whitemon said.

"And you just barely buried [the gun] under a thin layer of dirt?" Davidson asked. "You knew that gun was used. You knew that gun was involved in a murder case, didn't you?"

"Yes sir," Whitemon said.

"But you didn't just go give it to the police," Davidson said. "You waited until they came to you about it."

"Well I called them back," Whitemon said.

"That's not what I'm asking," Davidson said, attempting to gain an admission that Whitemon never proactively went to authorities regarding the evidence he had in his posession.

"Each and every time you talked to the police about this case, you knew that AK-47 was a key piece of evidence in this case, didn't you?"

"Yes sir," Whitemon said.

"But you chose not to tell them," Davidson said.

"Yes sir," Whitemon said.

Davidson raised questions over Whitemon's "protective custody." Whitemon and Bingham clarified that he is simply staying in a location of his own choosing and of which only Bingham's office is aware. They have not put him up in a hotel or a safehouse.

"Isn't it true that you had never mentioned Dennis Bendy's name in relation to this case prior to today?" Davidson asked.

"Yes sir," Whitemon said.

"Isn't it true that you've made this up because you know Dennis bendy is on trial and you'll get extra credit for tying him in?" Davidson asked.

"How would I get any credit?" Whitemon asked in return.

Davidson then objected to Whitemon's response as being in the form of a question, which was sustained. Whitemon said he was not making up the story he told in court.

Whitemon then clarified that he did not supply the Ruger. He said he only supplied the AK-47 and only hid or disposed of the Ruger.

Davidson asked whether Whitemon knew Williams was coming with the gun. He said Williams called ahead of time but did not specify the reason for his visit. Davidson wanted to know why that didn't worry Whitemon just hours after having heard gunfire near his home. Whitemon said he was used to receiving calls at all hours of the night.

"When he got there he gave it to you?" Davidson asked.

"He put it in my hand," Whitemon said.

"And you knew what it was?" Davidson asked.

"It was dark but I could feel it was a gun," Whitemon said.

Davidson wanted to know why Whitemon didn't just refuse to dispose of the gun. Whitemon said it all happened too fast.

"Had you ever gotten rid of anything for him before?" Davidson asked.

"No sir," Whitemon said.

"Had you ever gotten rid of anything for anyone before?" Davidson asked.

"No sir," Whitemond said.

"So all you had to do was call 911 for them to come get this gun, right?" Davidson asked.

"I had never had anything like this happen to me," Whitemon said.

"But you knew it was wrong and you knew it was wrong to be associated with this gun, correct?" Davidson asked.

"Yes sir," Whitemon said.

Whitemon reiterated his previous testimony that he went immediately to the back yard and buried the Ruger under a thin layer of dirt. He said he attempted unsuccessfully to get back in touch with Williams regarding the gun for several days while it remained in his yard. By that time, he said, the police had gotten in touch with him, suspecting that he had the Ruger.
Davidson wanted to know why Whitemon met a police investigator at the mall instead of the jail or police station. Whitemon said he didn't put any thought into the choice of locations. He said he did not know the gun was the murder weapon until the police informed him.

At the mall, Whitemon said he spent approximately thirty minutes after handing off the gun answering questions. Davidson inquired if that was the point at which he was certain the gun was part of Young's murder. Whitemon said it was.

"Isn't it correct that the police asked you where the gun had been?" Davidson said.

"Yes sir," Whitemon said.

"But you told them you took it to Bullard. You lied to them," Davidson said.

"Yes sir," Whitemon said.

On the topic of the AK-47, Whitemon testified that he had bought a truck a little over a week before the shooting from a man in the Gladewater area. He said he found a listing for the truck on Craigslist, paid $1,500 for it and essentially took the seller at his word that it was in working condition based on the fact that he had managed to drive to the meeting location.

Whitemon said it was several days before he decided to clean out the truck, discovered the AK-47 and ammunition inside, and decided to place those items inside the trunk of another car on his property. He again testified that Bendy and Goldstein came and took the AK-47 off his hands just a few days later on the day of the shooting.

Whitemon said the exchange of the AK-47 happened about an hour before the shooting itself. Davidson again accused him of making the story up.

Later, Davidson tried to get Whitemon to admit that only Goldstein came and picked up the AK-47. Whitemon insisted Bendy was present.

"Isn't it true you know this story will put Dennis Bendy in a bad light and that's the reason you're giving this testimony," Davidson said.

"No that is not the reason," Whitemon said. "It's what happened."

Detective Damon Swan of the Tyler Police Department was called as the next witness. Swan was the lead detective investigating Young's murder. 
Swan confirmed the basic timeline of the shooting and the minutes immediately following it. He corroborated the time of the shooting, the traffic stop of the white Cadillac and the fact that many witnesses were interviewed on scene that night. 
Swan said an early interview with an eyewitness indicated he should be looking for a newer model white sedan and that the driver had stepped out while parked on Mockingbird and fired from between his door and the side of the car. He said physical evidence at the scene backed up her story. 
"As we began to interview other people we realize we might have another shooter," Swan said. "Someone shooting near the bathroom area of the park." 
Swan would later come to believe Bendy shot from the car on Mockingbird and Williams shot from the near restrooms. 
Biggs provided an envelope containing the bullet that killed Young when she was shot in the chest. Swan verified the contents.


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