Dennis Bendy's murder trial began Tuesday morning with opening statements from the prosecution and the defense.
Bendy is accused of killing 20-year-old Briana Young at Tyler's P.T. Cole Park on July 30, 2013. The investigation revealed Young was the victim of crossfire in a gang-related shootout.
Smith County District Attorney Matt Bingham opened by thanking the jury for their service and then outlining the circumstances in which Young died.
"She was shot dead and fell on top of her little boy," he said.
Bingham began outlining "major players" in the night's events as he wrote on a white board. He wrote down the names K.J. Wilson Hurd and Darrion Lee, telling the jury they were gang members who were together in a white Cadillac that night.
Bingham then wrote down Bendy's name along with Elisha Williams and Rakheem Goldstein, telling the jury they were all members of the Westside Rolling 60s, a rival gang to that of those in the white Cadillac. The three of them were riding in a white Hyundai Elantra. Bingham said Bendy was armed with a Glock and Williams with a Ruger. He said the Ruger had been recovered and matched to a bullet pulled from Young's chest following her death.
Bingham told the jury additional rounds were recovered in varying locations at the park and connected to both guns.
Earlier in the night, Bingham said Bendy and Goldstein were in Bendy's own silver Cadillac and made the decision to trade the Lincoln for the night with Goldstein's girlfriend's white Elantra. Bingham said the switch was a calculated attempt not to be readily identified following the shooting that would ensue.
"At that point, Briana Young has about one hour left on this earth," Bingham said. "And [her son] has about one hour left with his mom."
Bingham said Hurd and Lee were to meet up with a group of girls, including Young, at the park that night. He said both were aware that it was dangerous due to the park being in "Rolling 60s territory."
Hurd and Lee arrived and parked the white Cadillac at the side of the road. They ended up sitting at a picnic table with the group of girls. At the time, Young was with her son who was playing on playground equipment just a few feet away.
Eventually, Bingham said, Bendy, Williams and Goldstein arrived. Bingham said they realized rival gang members were on their turf.
"Bam, bam, bam, bam, bam," Bingham said. "The Glock is fired. The Ruger is fired."
Young was unable to duck for cover like the others due to being away from the picnic table.
"Mortally wounded, she was still running," Bingham said. "She ran until she fell on top of her son fifty feet later."
Bingham said the group attempted to hide the guns, but that Goldstein cooperated when he was arrested and showed them where the guns were. He indicated Goldstein would testify in the case.
"We're not going to tell you Bendy was the shooter," Bingham said.
Instead, he told the jury Bendy was criminally responsible by virtue of the law of parties which states that helping someone else in an offense confers equal liability to all involved.
"The city belongs to the people who take their kids to parks," Bingham said. "And not to these gang members. That's why we're here."
Having wrapped up his opening statement, Bingham deferred to defense attorney Rex Thompson who decided to wait to make his opening statement.
Bingham's first witness was Texas Ranger Brent Davis.
Davis said he was called in to create a 360 degree reconstruction of the crime scene. Bingham showed that reconstruction to the jury on a large television screen as Davis identified a large number of bullets and shell casing scattered around the park.
Bingham next called Tyler Police Detective Chris Miller. Miller identified himself as the department's gang intelligence officer, a position he has held since 1999.
Miller testified that Tyler has had active street gangs since 1989.
Miller said that by law he is required to keep a database with known local gang members based on stringent criteria laid out by the legislature.
Bingham asked about K.J. Wilson-Hurd's gang affiliation. Miller said Hurd was known to be a Five Deuce Hoover Crip.
Bingham asked about the P.T. Cole Park area. Miller said it was the area claimed by the Westside Crips. He further specified that the Westside Rolling 60s, a subset of the Westside Crips, were specifically connected to that territory.
Miller testified that Goldstein, Williams and Bendy are all documented members of the Westside Rolling 60s.
Bingham produced and displayed a photo of Bendy without clothing on his upper body. It depicted tattoos including "money, respect, power" and the image of a handgun. Miller testified that the tattoos were characteristic of a gang member.
Bingham then produced a candid group photo of Bendy and others.
"They are displaying a Westside hand sign," Miller said. "That's indicative of the Westside Crips."
Miller clarified that Bendy himself did not appear to be displaying the hand sign, but that such groupings were exclusive and the other gang members would not have allowed Bendy into the photograph if he were not a member of their gang.
Bingham produced and displayed numerous photos of Elisha Williams appearing to display the Westside hand sign. Miller testified that the photos were evidence of Williams' membership in the Westside Rolling 60s.
Miller made similar identifications within photos of Goldstein.
Miller examined numerous photos of Hurd and identified several examples of tattoos linking him to the Five Deuce Hoover Crips.
Bingham showed a photo which, at first, seemed counter-intuitive because Hurd appeared to be displaying a Westside hand sign. Miller pointed out that Hurd was using his other hand to show disrespect to the Westside by extending only his middle finger. Miller equated that disrespect to a dislike for and rivalry with the Westside Rolling 60s, and by extension, Goldstein, Bendy and Williams.
On cross examination, defense attorney Rex Thompson asked whether non-gang members have tattoos. Miller said many people have tattoos.
Thompson asked which tattoos on Bendy's body specifically denote membership in a gang. Miller said none of them did.
"So in those photos of tattoos on Dennis Bendy, he has no tattoos identifying him as a gang member, is that correct?" Thompson said.
"That's correct," Miller said.
Bingham asked whether all gang members get gang-related tattoos. Miller said many do not.
"Can you rule out that maybe these guys just like the letter 'W?'" Bingham asked.
"No I can't," Miller said.
"So it's possible they're all just obsessed with the letter 'W?'" Bingham asked.
"Yes, it's possible," Miller said.
"Would that make much sense to you?" Bingham asked.
"Based on my experience and training, no it would not," Miller said.
Bingham next called Jessica Shurman as a witness. Shurman said she was currently employed at the Food Fast at 805 West Houston Street in Tyler, and had been since prior to the shooting at the park.
Shurman authenticated the recording given to police that showed surveillance camera footage from in and around that Food Fast location on the night of the shooting.
Kiara Cane was the next witness. She said she knew Williams as a family friend. She said she knew Goldstein and Bendy through school and church. She said she did not know them to be gang members.
Bingham asked Cane about Madeline Wallace. Cane said Wallace was a friend and room mate of hers and knew Wallace to be Goldstein's girlfriend. Cane also said she and Wallace met up with Goldstein on the night of the shooting. She said she and Wallace were in Wallace's white Hyndai Elantra and Bendy and Goldsteing were in Bendy's silver Lincoln.
Cane testified that she and Wallace traded cars with Bendy and Goldstein.
"Did the Lincoln drive okay?" Bingham asked.
"Yes," Cane said.
"Did Dennis bendy tell you why [he wanted to trade]?" Bingham asked.
"No he didn't," Cane said.
Examining the Food Fast surveillance video, Cane identified the white Elantra in the frame. At first it was alone next to a gas pump. A few minutes later the video showed a silver Lincoln pulling up alongside the Elantra and stopping. Cane testified that the video showed herself and Wallace trading cars with Bendy and Goldstein.
Cane further testified that the video showed Bendy entering the white Elantra through the driver's side door.
"Didn't you think it was weird that you just traded cars?" Bingham asked.
"No sir," Cane said. "I just figured she was letting her boyfriend use her car."
"But when they drove off he was on the passenger side," Bingham said. "Do you know why?"
"No I don't," Cane said.
Cane testified that she would be happy if Bendy is acquitted. Bingham posited that her testimony was all the more devastating for him as a result.
Thompson asked Cane whether Goldstein borrowed the car often. Cane said it happened from time to time. Thompson asked whether she could be sure Bendy was still in the car or driving an hour later. She said she could not be sure.
Madeline Wallace was the next witness called. She admitted to having been Goldstein's girlfriend. She said she knew him to be a member of the Westside Rolling 60s. Wallace also said she knew Williams and Bendy to be members of the same gang. She identified Hurd as a member of the Five Deuce Hoover Crips.
Wallace identified the white Elantra seen throughout the day of testimony as her own. She identified the silver Lincoln as Bendy's.
"I had never seen his car until that day," she said. "But I remember."
Wallace corroberated Cane's story about a plan to meet at the Food Fast store and exchange cars with Beny and Goldstein.
"Did you have any idea your car was going to be used in a crime?" Assistant District Attorney Kenneth Biggs asked.
"No sir," Wallace said.
Wallace said she had not wanted Goldstein to drive her car and instead requested that Bendy get behind the wheel. Asked why, she said only that Goldstein was not in the right state of mind to drive a car. Biggs did not ask why she felt that way.
When they traded cars, Wallace said Goldstein was intently focused on cleaning out her car.
"He just had a thing about cars being filthy and dirty," she said.
"Wouldn't that also clear room for a third passenger?" Biggs asked.
"Yes sir," Wallace said.
Wallace testified that it was Bendy who called her later in the night to tell her where she could find her car. That would have been after the time the shooting occurred in the park. She said she also spoke with Goldstein, and knew at the time that there had been a shooting but was unaware that it involved people she knew.
Thompson asked how many times Wallace had seen the video of the car exchange taken by Food Fast security cameras. Wallace's answer allowed Thompson to draw attention to the fact that she had prepared for her testimony with the District Attorney's office.
Thompson asked Wallace why she felt Goldstein wasn't in his right mind and didn't want him driving her car. Wallace said she believed Goldstein was "under the influence," but could not say what substance might be affecting him.
Tyler Police Officer Ryan Gummer was the next witness. Gummer identified himself as an accident investigator skilled in the use of surveying equipment to diagram areas involved in crime scenes and wrecks.
Biggs produced and displayed a diagram of the park once it became a crime scene. Gummer authenticated the markings denoting where evidence had been found and described procedures for taking evidence from the scene after its location had been appropriately documented.
Gummer described two major groupings of shell casings that he plotted on the official diagram of the scene. He said the ones marked on the diagram represented the entirety of what was ejected from the guns during the shootout that night.
Thompson asked Gummer whether a certain bullet fragment located high in a tree had been marked with an evidence marker. Gummer said the bullet fragment had not been marked when he made his diagram. He said it was located later.
DeShayla Pierce was called as the next witness. Pierce said Young was the mother of her nephew. She said she was at P.T. Cole Park on the night of the shooting because Young had asked her to come and play with the little boy.
Pierce acknowledged knowing Hurd but said she was not aware of any gang affiliation on his part. She said Lee had gone to school with her and claimed emphatically that he is not a gang member.
Pierce said she knew Goldstein, Bendy and Williams and was unaware of any gang affiliation on their part.
Pierce said she arrived at the park a few hours before the shooting occurred. She came with two friends and met Briana and her nephew there. She described a large group of people, all of whom sat under the pavilion at the park after they arrived. She said the group later moved south in the park toward some picnic tables.
"Did you see K.J. [Wilson-Hurd] with a gun?" Bingham asked.
"Yes sir," Pierce said.
"Why did he get out the gun?" Bingham asked.
"He thought we were [rival] gang members," Pierce said. "Until he saw our faces."
Pierce said that was a while before the shooting. She testified that she was sitting less than ten feet from Hurd and Lee when the shooting started, and that Hurd and Lee did not fire their guns, though they did draw them as if prepared to return fire.
"What did Briana do?" Bingham asked.
"She ran after [her son]," Pierce said.
"Where was the gunfire coming from?" Bingham asked.
"There was a car that had pulled up and it was coming from there," she said.
Pierce testified that shots came in rapid succession. She could not specifically identify the car or identify where specifically the shots were coming from inside the car.
"What happened when you approached Briana on the ground?" Bingham asked.
"I pulled [her son] out," Pierce said.
"Was Briana still alive?" Bingham asked.
Sobbing as she looked at photos from the crime scene, Pierce said Young's eyes were moving and she was gasping for air as she bled from the fatal wound to her chest.