Lufkin man's attorney questions evidence in murder case

Joshua Handy mug shot courtesy of Angelina County Jail.
Joshua Handy mug shot courtesy of Angelina County Jail.

LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) - By Holley Nees - email

LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) - The first day of trial has begun for a Lufkin man accused of shooting 21-year-old Jerrard Jernigan and leaving him for dead on Cain Street in Lufkin back in April 2009.

Joshua Handy sat next to his defense attorney as day one of testimony in his murder trial began with a crowded courtroom.

Before the jury entered the courtroom, District Attorney Clyde Herrington claimed Handy has made threats or gestures to some witnesses.

Handy stood as the state read the indictment claiming Handy caused the death of the victim by "…shooting Jerrard Jernigan with a firearm."  Judge Barry Bryan asked Handy how he pleads and Handy responds, "not guilty."

Opening arguments began as Herrington addressed the jury explaining there are communities that people are "less inclined" to get involved in helping in an investigation. Herrington explained to the jury that there will be some witnesses in this case that have been or are in trouble with the law. He further explained to the jury that the law doesn't require the state to prove motive.

Herrington took the jury on a journey of the last day in the life of Jernigan, a high school graduate. He explained that on the night in question, Jernigan went to a club, then later walked to a friend's house. Later, Lufkin Police had been called and found Jernigan lying on the edge of the street with a path of blood coming from his head. He said an autopsy revealed the cause of death was a gunshot wound to the head.

Herrington then began describing Handy, who was living with his brother, saying there will be evidence that he was fighting with his brothers. Herrington said he thinks the evidence will show that there were some young men that saw Handy fire a revolver in the air at a park when he was on "wet," a marijuana cigarette dipped in embalming fluid. He explains how detectives executed a search warrant and found a box of ammunition. He said examiners compared the bullets found at Handy's residence and the bullet recovered from Jernigan's head.

Herrington went on to say Handy made a statement to a woman that "Jerrard Jernigan deserved to die." Herrington said Handy told inmates in jail that he had shot the victim.  Herrington ended telling the jury he thinks the evidence will show, "Joshua Handy…shot and killed Jerrard Jernigan."

Defense attorney Michael Nguyen began his opening arguments, claiming the jury will hear from several witnesses that have inconsistencies in their statements. Nguyen claimed testimony will show the first person that found Jernigan was at a place only a block away from Handy's residence, so it wouldn't be uncommon for Handy to be in the area. Nguyen told the jury they will hear that when detectives interviewed witnesses in their investigation, rumors began flying about Handy being gay and that he had a secret relationship that he didn't want to come out.  Nguyen pointed out that these were rumors and simply what the witnesses heard. The defense pointed out the jury will see the DNA evidence does not point to Handy.

The state called their first witness, Dan Lair, a former Lufkin Police officer. He testified that dispatch called him and told him they had word of a man on the street down on Cain Street.  He said when he got to the scene, a lady was flagging him down and he said,"…on the curb you could see a body laying there, a person over it doing CPR." He said he thought the person performing CPR was intoxicated and he asked him to stop so he could check for a pulse on the body. Lair said, "I didn't find any pulse…there was an enormous amount of blood." The former officer described how police roped off the crime scene that night in April.

Lair said originally he thought Jernigan may have been hit in the head. He said it was hard to tell what caused Jernigan's death at the time. The defense then began questioning the former officer about the details of the April 2009 night.Nguyen asked about Justin Durham, a man that was supposedly around the scene where the body was found that night.

The state's second witness, Deborah Walsh, processes crime scenes for the Lufkin Police Department and was called to the scene on Cain Street early in the morning back in April 2009.  She remembered getting to the scene and, "There was a body in the street." Herrington asked Walsh to identify crime scene photos from the scene and she told the jury, "They're photos of a victim lying in the street." Herrington then passed the photos to the jury as Walsh described them. She said, "It's the victim lying against the curb…covered in a sheet." She explained another photo, "It's a close-up of the victim with a knife lying beside him." The jury passed the photos around as Walsh continued to walk them through the photos depicting a backpack found in the street, a stream of blood, crime scene tape, an abrasion on one of Jernigan's hands, and close-up photographs of the knife that was found next to the body.

Walsh said she sent the backpack found on the scene to a lab.  She said she also collected, a gunshot residue kit done on the victim, and a bullet from the head of the victim and sent it to a lab.

Walsh said she also collected evidence when authorities executed a search warrant at a home on Sayers Street. She again walked the jury through photographs of the house where the warrant was conducted. She said, "This is a close-up of the gun that was found in the couch."  She held up a photo and said it was a backpack with bullets in it. Next, evidence was presented to the jury, including what Walsh said was "…the bullet from the head of Jerrard Jernigan." Other evidence presented to the jury Monday morning included fingernail scrapings, a gunshot residue kit from Jerrard Jernigan, and "The knife that was found next to the body of Jerrard Jernigan, at the scene." A Smith and Wesson revolver discovered in the couch at the Sayers Street residence was also shown to the jury.

Nguyen questioned Walsh about how she recovered evidence and sent it to the lab. Walsh said she retrieved a fingerprint from a beer can found in the street near the body. Nguyen asked if she fingerprinted the gun found in the residence and she said "not that she recalled." He asked her if it would be important to fingerprint it to try link it to the defendant and she said yes, but pointed out that she collects evidence based on what certain officers request her to gather. Nguyen questioned Walsh in detail about the evidence she collected and tested and asked her why she didn't test certain items.

Testimony continued in the first day of the murder trial with the state questioning Walsh about the way evidence was collected and tested. Walsh pointed out that she usually doesn't have a lot of results in fingerprinting guns. Later, Nguyen pointed out that the saliva at the scene was never sent off for evidence.

The state called Lufkin Police Department Criminal Investigator Ron Stubblefield to the stand Monday afternoon. He said when he arrived at the roped off scene, "I saw a number of patrolmen there as well as a gathering of folks around the crime scene." Stubblefield explained how he and other officers canvassed the neighborhood and questioned witnesses. The investigator said an autopsy was conducted on Jernigan and at the time of the incident officers were not sure what had caused his death. He then explained to the jury a series of photos. Looking at an image he said, "This is a picture of the bullet entrance into the deceased's forehead." He identified another photo and said, "That is the slug that was extracted from the brain of the deceased."

Nguyen asked Stubblefield if there appeared to be an exit wound on the victim's head, but Stubblefield said there was no exit wound.  Looking at a photo of the victim he said, "What I actually see is blood all around the head and on the forehead."

The state called Dr. Tommy Brown, a forensic pathologist, to the stand Monday afternoon.  Brown said he performed an autopsy on Jerrard Jernigan.  Upon examining Jernigan, Brown said, "There was a gunshot wound just below the right eyebrow…it had some dried blood around the area." Brown said he detected stippling on Jernigan, which are small abrasions that occur usually when a gun is fired a close range.  He said Herrington was correct that the marks could indicate that the end of the gun barrel was less than a few feet from the victim when the shot was fired.   He concluded that the cause of Jernigan's death was "A gunshot wound to the head." He said the bullet was recovered from the right backside of the head.

Brown said there were no findings of illegal drugs or alcohol in the Jernigan, only positive findings of caffeine.  Herrington asked Brown what a person would be able to do if they were shot in the way Jernigan was, he responded, "I think they would collapse immediately."  He said, "I don't think he would be able to do very much except lay there and die."

Brown went on to explain that the bullet was a lead bullet and it fragmented in the body.  The jury was shown an x-ray of Jernigan's head where the bullet is visible.

Nguyen questioned Brown about the angle of the bullet in Jernigan's head, pointing out that if the shooter was shorter than Jernigan, he would have to reach even further up to make the bullet path that was discovered in Jernigan's head.  However, Brown explained that if the victim moves their head even slightly, the angles and path of the bullet can change dramatically.

The state called Laderica Parks to the stand Monday afternoon, a long-time close friend of Jerrard Jernigan.  She said Jernigan was a good person, a friendly person.  She said Jernigan was over at her house almost every day.  She said Jernigan was at her house around midnight the night he was killed.  She said he had a pocket knife with him that night.

Parks said the state told her not to speak with Nguyen if she didn't want to.  Nguyen later questioned Parks about Jernigan's sexuality asking, "Do you know if he's a homosexual or bisexual?" She said, "Well, He's bi…he likes men and women."  He asked when did you suspect he was bisexual, she said, "I'd say 10th or 11th grade."   She said Jernigan did not cross dress.

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