LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) - An attorney tells jurors a 20-year-old Lufkin woman drove the car in a January 2010 drive-by shooting that killed a 63-year-old man.
Kendall Thompson's murder trial began Tuesday morning in District Judge Barry Bryan's courtroom with Thompson pleading not guilty to murder.
Thompson, her then-boyfriend, Elton Leroyce Gibson Jr., of Lufkin, and Johnx Ray Greer, 20, of Lufkin, are charged in the death of Joseph Cooper on Cottonbelt Street in Lufkin.
According to an arrest affidavit, a witness said Cooper was in the house when he heard gunshots outside. He then went outside and about five to ten minutes later, Cooper was hit by a bullet.
The affidavit states Cooper was not involved in the initial conflict on the street, which began when a man "pie-faced" Thompson. Thompson left the scene and returned with Gibson and Greer and one of them fired the gun at the house, according to the affidavit.
In opening arguments, Angelina County Assistant District Attorney Katrina Carswell said the evidence will show Thompson drove her boyfriend and another man to the Cottonbelt house the night Cooper was shot dead.
Carswell said several people were at Cooper's house for a Martin Luther King, Jr. Day barbeque.
She explained Thompson and a few girls were hanging out the night Cooper was killed. Apparently Thompson drove two of her friends to Cooper's home on Cottonbelt Street. She said when they showed up to the house, a fight broke-out between the girls and some people gathered at the home.
The state told jurors a man mistook Thompson for another girl and tried to take her out of the car. However, one of Thompson's friends recognized her and pointed out she was the wrong girl.
Carswell said Thompson was frantic that night.
"She had been mistaken for another girl and had someone put their hands on her," Carswell said.
According to Carswell, Thompson later told the two girls she was going to call her "boys," meaning Greer and her boyfriend Gibson.
Carswell said everybody was upset that the girls had got roughed up and been in a fight.
The prosecutor said evidence will show Narvalee Young didn't know where Thompson was going once they separated later that night. She said Narvalee Young drove by that night and fired her .22 into the air and her car was sprayed with bullets.
Joseph Cooper came out of his house to see what was going on, according to Carswell. The state believes later that night Greer unloaded at least 10 rounds, one of them killing Cooper. He died two hours later at a Lufkin hospital.
The prosecution said evidence will show after Thompson was roughed up by men at Cooper's house, she was mad.
"The evidence will show clearly that Kendall Thompson was the instigator of this drive-by that killed Joseph Cooper," said Carswell.
Carswell went on to say that it was Thompson's actions that led a car full of people to drive to Cooper's house and spray it with bullets.
Defense attorney Al Charanza began addressing the jury.
"Kendall Thompson is not a murderer," he said.
The attorney went on to explain Thompson lived with her mom in Huntington and was the captain of the junior varsity cheerleading squad. Later, he said she moved to Lufkin with her mother which is where she met Gibson.
Charanza said the Lufkin High School graduate was dating Gibson, but she started moving away from him.
The defense attorney explained his client was hanging out with Narvalee "Sierra" Young and Laricia "Pig" Young the evening Cooper was killed. He said the girls wanted some marijuana, so they drove to Greer's house to buy the drug.
Charanza said Thompson was driving the Young girls around and dropped them off at the Cottonbelt house and drove around the block. He said when she drove back around to the house the Young girls were in a fight. Apparently he said one man believed Thompson was a girl that was involved in a fake drug deal.
Thompson's friend, according to the defense, realized she was the wrong girl and they left her alone. Charanza goes on to explain the Young girls get in a different car and later that night drive by the house and fire a couple rounds in the air.
The attorney said Thompson was driving when Gibson and Greer begin talking about the earlier fight. He said Greer told Gibson he can't believe he would let something like that happen to his girl. Charanza said at one point, Thompson got out of the car because she didn't want to be a part of it and Gibson began driving.
The defense claims Thompson was not driving the car the night Cooper was killed and she wasn't a part of the shooting. He said Thompson and Gibson didn't find out Cooper was dead until the next morning.
"Merely being present at the time of the crime does not make you guilty," said Charanza.
The attorney said it's going to come down to the credibility of the witnesses and who had a reason to be at the Cottonbelt house.
"Kendall Thompson is not a murderer," concluded Charanza.
The state called their first witness to the stand Tuesday morning, Gabe Wall a Lufkin Police Department Investigator. Wall was assigned to the Cooper murder case last year.
Wall testified he found several shell casings located in the driveway and the road near the Cottonbelt home. The detective said the bullet casings in the driveway were a different caliber than the ones in the road which made them believe there were two separate shootings that January 2010 night.
The investigator explained to jurors the witness testimony and evidence that led them to Thompson's arrest.
Wall said Narvalee "Sierra" Young was responsible for the first shooting. He said they believed she fired a few shots directly in the air and received return fire from the yard. The detective explained the Young girls were initially charged with aggravated assault, but they later discovered she had shot directly in the air, rather than at a person.
He went on to say some witnesses told investigators they found a bullet casing on Thompson's car less than 24 hours after the murder.
Wall said months went by before they figured out who exactly was in the drive-by car responsible for Cooper's death.
Charanza began questioning Wall about the shell casings police found on the scene.
The defense attorney pointed out that no one from the actual Cottonbelt house called police. He asked if that would be because they didn't want the law involved. The detective responded he couldn't speak to what the people at the house wanted that night.
He told jurors they did recover a .22 they believed Narvalee "Sierra" Young had used that night during the first drive-by.
Charanza pointed out his client later cooperated with detectives as they went through her phone and she helped get Gibson to the police station.
Enree Lewis, a jail inmate, took the stand late Tuesday morning. Lewis is serving a five year sentence for several drug charges. He testified he was at the scene of the crime that night. He said he didn't see anyone put hands on Thompson the night the Young girls allegedly began fighting at the Cottonbelt house.
"When the ladies, they started fighting, they were on the street," said Lewis.
He said he got in front of Thompson and told her to leave. He said he remembers pushing Thompson toward the car and telling her to leave.
Charanza began questioning the inmate. He asked Lewis what was going on at Cooper's house. Lewis said about 12 people were over there for a celebration.
He said he is confused as to why he is in the courtroom testifying.
Jarvis Spears was called to the stand by the prosecution as testimony continued in Thompson's murder trial.
The witness told jurors he knows Thompson and her sister. He said he and Thompson used to hang out some. He said after Cooper died, Thompson came to his house saying she needed to talk to him.
Spears said Lewis saw Thompson's car and said that was the car that drove by the Cottonbelt house and did the shooting.
"She was kind of in like a frantic way," he said of Thompson.
The witness said the defendant told him she had to clean out her car. He said he saw a bullet on Thompson's car and asked her about it. However, he said Thompson said it was not her bullet and when he kept asking her she got upset.
He said Thompson passed out at his house, but she was later able to compose herself and leave.
Spears said Thompson told him Narvalee Young had shot up the Cottonbelt house after an altercation. He said Young ended up telling him what really happened that night.
"She [Thompson] said she had let somebody use her car," said Spears.
He said Thompson said she was not involved in the shooting and she was somewhere asleep. He testified Thompson told him some guy had tried to beat her up, but Lewis pointed out she was the wrong girl and they left her alone.
He said Thompson has let people drive her car in the past.
Charanza began questioning Spears. He said he met Thompson years ago in his drug trading days.
Spears said he later contacted detectives because he wanted them to know he had no part in the shooting.
He said he was never around Gibson because they didn't see eye to eye. He said he didn't like the way Gibson treated Thompson. He said Gibson was abusive.
However, the prosecution pointed out all he ever heard was Thompson's side of the story. Spears said he couldn't understand the abuse because Thompson was feisty.
"Only drug that I haven't seen her use is crystal meth and wet, other than that she did every drug I ever sold," said Spears.
Thompson has been in the Angelina County Jail since January, when Bryan revoked her bond because she went to places he had not authorized her to go, according to Angelina County Adult Probation Director Rodney Thompson.