Inmate testifies Lufkin man spoke about murder

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

LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) - The second day of an Angelina County murder trial begins with the state calling a Lufkin man to the stand who claims he saw the defendant, Joshua Handy, with a gun the April 2009 night 21-year-old Jerrard Jernigan was found dead on a Lufkin road.

Handy is accused of shooting Jernigan in the head and leaving him to die on Cain Street.

Menefee, 21, is related to two men that also testified in this case. He explained he was at a Lufkin park the same day Jernigan was found dead. He said he knew the defendant from school and he saw him the night of the incident.

Menefee said, "He [Handy] had a strong scent…The scent was like…embalming fluid." He told the jury Handy was acting, "kind of jumpy like someone was following him…He kept staring, tell these boys I'm not playing."  Then, he said Handy, "…shot the gun in the air and rode off on a bike." Menefee described the gun as "a black .38 revolver."

The defense attorney, Michael Nguyen, questioned Menefee about two statements he gave detectives regarding the incident. Nguyen had Menefee look at photos and walk the jury through the exact spot they were the night they claim they saw Handy. Menefee described how Handy jumped over a fence twice, the second time with a revolver in his hand. Nguyen showed him the gun police took into evidence at a Sayers Street residence and Menefee said the gun Handy had that night was black and it was not that gun. The defense questioned him extensively about his knowledge of guns.

Later Menefee was asked to explain what people he has seen on embalming fluid act like. He said, "I could smell it on him [Handy,] he was real jumpy like someone was really following him." He told the jury Handy was acting real jittery. Menefee walked the jury through the rest of the April 2009 night. He said he rode someone else's bike home when it was dark.

Menefee said he heard a gunshot later that night when he was riding his bike home on North Street. The defense asked him if it was the same gunshot he had heard Handy shoot up in the air earlier that night. He said, "It was loud, I don't know if was the exact same gunshot, but it was loud."

Nguyen asked Menefee if he felt threatened by the state or if the state asked him not to speak with the defense. Menefee said, "Detective Stubblefield said it was up to me if I wanted to talk to y'all, but it was in my best interest not to."

District Attorney Clyde Herrington then called Vicki Hall, a trace evidence examiner to the stand. Hall said she performs gunshot residue analysis that can determine if a person fired a gun or was around a gun when it was fired.  Hall said she performed tests on Jernigan.

Hall identified evidence as samples from the back of the right and left hands of Jernigan.  She said she didn't find any gunshot residue particles on Jernigan's hand.  She said the findings could mean several things, including the possibility that Jernigan did not discharge a firearm, or the person's hands had been wiped or washed before the samples were taken.

Nguyen pointed out that a backpack or a knife was never sent in for gunshot residue analysis.  Both items were presented by the state as evidence linked to the crime.

Angela Thomas, a forensic biologist that screens evidence for bodily fluids, said she supervised an employee at the lab screen evidence Lufkin Police sent to her for the presence of blood.  She was sent several items including, a revolver, a backpack, hairnets, and two gloves.

Thomas said the pocket knife was positive for the presence of blood, but no blood was detected on the fingernail clippings from the victim, the backpack, hairnets, or on the gloves.  However, DNA samples were taken from the items.

Thomas explained that she found reddish-brown stains along the wrist area of both gloves, but it was not detected to be blood.

Angela Fitzwater, a forensic biologist that performs DNA testing, told the jury she examined a pocketknife, fingernail clippings, a blood standard from Jernigan, a buccal swab from Handy, hairnets and a backpack. She then took the jury through her DNA test findings. She said DNA on the pocketknife, hairnet swab, glove swab, fingernail clippings from the victim, and backpack matched Jernigan's DNA profile. Fitzwater said the DNA on the pocketknife also matched Handy's DNA profile.

Nguyen later questioned Fitzwater about the quality of the DNA matches she discovered. She pointed out the DNA on the pocketknife was most likely Jernigan's. She said you can't exclude Handy from also contributing DNA to the pocket knife because he has one genetic marker in his DNA that more than half of the population also have.

Heather Thomas, a firearm evidence examiner, testified she tested a bullet from Jernigan's autopsy and a firearm to see if they matched up. She said the bullet was one caliber and the firearm was a different caliber, so the firearm she received did not fire the bullet she received from Jernigan's autopsy. She told the jury she also examined a box of Winchester ammunition to the bullet from Jernigan. She said both are lead bullets, and both have similar bases.  She said the ammunition would be fired in a handgun.

After Nguyen extensively questioned her about the similarities between the fired bullet and the bullet in the box, she said, "I absolutely could not say that the fired bullet came out of the same box as the unfired bullet."

Thomas went on to say the placement of the cannelure on the fired bullet and the bullet from the box is similar. However, she said that many bullets could contain the similarities that the fired bullet and the bullet in the box contain. Nguyen asked Thomas why the bullet that killed Jernigan cannot be from the gun police had in evidence. She explained because the caliber bullet would not fit in that firearm.

Herrington pointed out that although Thomas can't say the bullet that killed Jernigan came from the box, she said she cannot absolutely exclude it from being from the box. She said the bullet that killed Jernigan was similar to or consistent with the Winchester bullet from the box.

The next witness, Charlotte Williams, said she saw Handy around the time of the murder. She said she was concerned when Handy pulled up in her yard with a friend because, "of the rumors I was hearing." She said Handy came in her house and she asked him about the rumors she was hearing, but she said Handy told her he didn't do it. She said Handy asked her to take him to the police station. Williams said she took Handy to the sheriff's office because he wanted to see if he had any warrants out.

Williams went on to tell the jury on the way to the sheriff's office Handy was stooping down messing with something in his shoe.

Nguyen asked Williams if she had heard rumors that "Josh Handy had murdered Jerrard Jernigan." Williams said yes. Nguyen then asked Williams if she, "…asked Josh directly because of the rumors." She said she did ask and he said he didn't do it.

Williams' sister, Sheila Moreno, said Williams called her the night Handy came to her house.  Moreno testified Handy seemed nervous when he was taken to the police station. Moreno said Williams told her that Handy had said he did it. She said, "Like I said, she just said he done it."  However, Moreno said when she asked Handy herself, he told her he did not do it.

Angelina County Sheriff's warrant officer Donna Clayton said Handy came to the sheriff's office to see if any warrants were out on him. She said he seemed very polite, but nervous, upset and agitated. Nguyen asked Clayton if she thought he was upset because he had done nothing wrong but feared a warrant was out on him. Clayton said no, she thought he might have been agitated because he did something wrong.

Karen Lee testified she saw Handy the night of Jernigan's death, as he rode up behind her on a small, green bicycle. Lee said he took her by surprise. Herrington asked what she did when she saw him.

"I pulled a knife on him," she said. Spectators laughed out loud.

Nguyen asked Lee if she was high that night. Lee said she was not.

"He was high!" she said. "I could tell that. He was not in his right state of mind."

Angelina County Jail inmate John Armstead testified he overheard Handy, during a church service at the jail, tell another inmate about shooting Jernigan. He said Handy said Handy's brother was upset with Handy about rumors that Handy had slept with Jernigan. He said Handy then told the inmates that he shot Jernigan, then threw the gun into a dumpster.

Armstead said he told a jailer and detective about Handy admitting to shooting Jernigan.

"I told the detective that I saw Jernigan's grandmother on TV and I said I would want justice as well," Armstead later.

Armstead said he later passed Handy a note in a jail church service, telling him he did not report the admission to anyone.

"I let him know I didn't have anything to do with it," Armstead said. "I didn't want to put myself in harm's way."

Nguyen question Armstead about Handy claiming the kind of gun he used, when another kind of bullet was found in Jernigan's head. He also asked him about the timing of the statement he gave to Lufkin Police, which was in Sept. 2009, in relevance to what unit of the jail Armstead and Handy were in.

Armstead admitted that he hoped telling police about the admission would spur the district attorney's office in helping him with his case, but he was not granted a deal in exchange for his testimony.

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