The first of three murder trials connected to last summer's shooting at P.T. Cole park will be in the hands of a jury Tuesday morning. Dennis Bendy is one of the 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.
Judge Jack Skeen, Jr. plans to read the official charge to the jury around 8:30am. He will then allow a maximum of one hour each for both side's closing arguments. Following a week of testimony presented by the state, the defense simply rested its case without calling any of its own witnesses or entering any exhibits as evidence.
Here's a recap of the trial so far:
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.
On day 4, the man who prosecutors put on the witness stand to testify that he helped to hide one of the guns in the shooting surprised the court by admitting that he also supplied the AK-47 involved in the attack. It led to a lengthy cross-examination by Bendy's defense attorneys who attempted to shake the man enough that he would change his story, casting doubt upon his version of events. He stuck to his original story throughout.Assistant District Attorney Kenneth Biggs recalled Tyler Police Detective Damon Swan to the stand Monday morning. Swan testified for several hours Friday afternoon regarding various aspects of the case and his role as the lead detective.
Swan resumed his testimony Monday by marking key locations involved in the investigation on a large map of the City of Tyler. He recounted the importance of the home where Katyron Barrett said he received the Glock and the AK-47--allegedly used by Bendy and Goldstein--for disposal. He also showed the jury the home on Peach Street where several key witnesses described being at various times during the night of July 30, 2013.
Prosecutors showed the jury photos of the AK-47 and the Glock as they were found on the side of a rural Smith County road. Investigators recovered those guns 24 days after the shooting. Swan testified that the guns appeared to have been placed there "for the benefit of the Tyler Police Department.
"Do you believe that was done to prevent you from making a tampering [with evidence] case against any one person?" Biggs asked.
"I do," Swan said.
Defense attorney Rex Thompson asked several clarifying questions as to people possibly involved in hiding and moving the guns. Swan agreed with several of Thompson's suggestions of who could have been involved.
The state next called Kimberly Mack, who was working for the Department of Public Safety's Garland DNA lab at the time of the investigation.
Mack detailed for the jury the difference between touch DNA and fluid DNA. She said touch DNA is what is left behind when someone's skin touches an object. That type of DNA evidence is difficult to test because cells on the skin surface lack a nucleus, which contains the genetic material necessary for testing. Fluid DNA, like that left by blood or semen, contains a much higher proportion of cells with nuclei and is much easier to test, she said.
Mack went on to say that some people "shed" more DNA via the skin than others.
"In this case, we know that the Ruger was shot at the scene at least seven times, and handled by multiple people. Is it possible to leave no trace of DNA in that situation?" Bingham asked.
"Yes," Mack said. "We call that 'no profile.'"
Mack said things as simple as having recently washed one's hands can prevent shedding for a while, and that everyone generates cells able and ready to be shed at a different rate.
On the Glock, Mack found that at least three people left DNA on the gun. She said she was able to determine that one was Male. The two other profiles were indeterminate and it was possible there were more than three unique DNA signatures on the gun.
Of the samples present, Mack said Bendy had been excluded as a possible contributor. In other words his DNA was not on the gun.
"Does that mean he didn't fire that gun that night?" Bingham asked.
"No," Mack said.
Thompson asked Mack whether she had calculated a mathematical probability of Bendy having touched the gun, given the alck of evidence. She said she had not calculated that. Thompson originally got her to agree that it was a 50/50 scenario.The next witness was Nathan Tunnell, a firearms expert from the Department of Public Safety's Tyler lab. He said his primary job is to compare "tool marks," which are the unique markings left on bullets by individual guns. Tunnell said the science behind that allows the bullets to be matched with the specific gun that fired them.
Tunnell authenticated the AK-47 as the one he had examined for this case. He said there had been no known firings of that weapon and it was not test-fired due to a lack of evidence for comparison.
Next Tunnell authenticated the Ruger (allegedly used by co-defendant Elisha Williams) as the one his lab had examined. He identified eleven additional exhibits as cartridge casings found at the scene of the shooting and said they had been fired from the Ruger in question. He identified two bullet jackets as having been fired from the Ruger.
"And you can state that those bullet jackets were fired from the Ruger [in this case]?" Biggs asked.
"Absolutely," Tunnell said.
Tunnell proceeded to authenticate the Glock (allegedly used by Bendy) as the one his lab had examined. He identified eight cartridge casings from the scene of the shooting and said they had been fired from the Glock. He identified three bullets from the scene, saying that he had been unable to prove conclusively that they were fired from the Glock in question. He said it was possible they had been fired from the Glock, but impossible for it to have been fired from the Ruger.
Biggs established for the record that Tunnell was unfamiliar with the facts surrounding the case, having been isolated from the majority of the investigation since it did not concern him.
Biggs proceeded to lay out a hypothetical situation with details matching the facts presented in this case. He talked about eight shell casings found on Mockingbird Street, and Tunnell agreed that those were the ones that must have come from the glock, matching testimony that Bendy had stood to the side of the white Elantra, parked on Mockingbird, and fired his shots into the park.
Tunnell said a number of other facts regarding where bullets and shell casings were found were consistent with his knowledge of the guns involved.
"All that information put together, do you have any conclusions you can draw from that?" Biggs asked.
"All I can say is it's all consistent with having been fired from the Glock," Tunnell said.
Thompson asked Tunnell to clarify the link between the Glock and the rounds found in the park. Tunnell said he could not state that the gun had been used and he could not state that the gun had not been used.
The state rested its case.
Immediately following the state's decision to rest, the defense made several motions for directed judgment based on the attorneys' contention that prosecutors failed to prove their case against Bendy. Judge Jack Skeen, Jr. denied all of those motions.
The defense rested, having called no witnesses. Both sides closed their cases, thereby ending the evidenciary phase of Bendy's trial.