Law enforcement witnesses testify at Angelina County murder trial

Law enforcement witnesses testify at Angelina County murder trial
Source: KTRE Staff
Source: KTRE Staff
Source: KTRE Staff
Source: KTRE Staff
Source: KTRE Staff

LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) - Tuesday marked the second day of the murder trial investigating Terry Criswell, who is a suspect in the shooting death of Kevin Moore on Nov. 15th, 2015.

The jury heard first from Lufkin Police Department Lt. Sergio Luna who responded to shots fired at the Annie Mae's night club. He said he was asked to first secure the scene at the hospital due to a large crowd.

"When I got to Woodland Heights there was about five to six people standing inside the hospital, as well as five more outside," Luna said. "That was when I received confirmation they were treating someone for multiple gunshot wounds."

Luna described securing the scene at the hospital to ensure no one present was a suspect involved in shooting or was a risk to anyone at the hospital.

"Robert Taylor approached me as soon as I arrived at the hospital and began to tell me what happened," Luna said. "He then showed me a magazine of bullets and told me after he heard shots he dispensed a round at the club as well."

Taylor testified Monday that he wasn't involved in the shooting that killed Moore and shot to simply clear the crowd after Moore was shot he said.

During cross-examination, John Peralta, Criswell's defense attorney, asked Luna if any weapons, drugs, or drug paraphernalia was found in the car to which Lt. Luna answered no. Peralta also questioned if Luna found other things like a soft drink bottle in the car to which he answered no.

Peralta entered into evidence a photograph taken from inside the vehicle that showed a soft drink bottle, another smaller bottle, and a cigar wrapper.

"So when you testified that there were no drugs in the vehicle, you were saying you yourself just didn't find any when you were searching?" Peralta asked.

Luna explained he was simply looking for weapons or any dangerous substances that would have been of direct harm to himself or others.

Next to testify was Robert Williams, who is a sergeant with the Angelina County Sheriff's Office and was on call the night of the shooting. He said he arrived at Annie Mae's with Detective Paul Bickerstaff who located the shell casings of rounds believed to be fired the night of the shooting.

"Immediately after that we returned back to the station, to log and record everything we found," Williams said. "When we recovered the bullet, I couldn't tell what caliber but there was no debris or dirt covering it."
On March 6th 2016, Williams was working when a firearm was found in a ditch on Jackson Road seven tenths of a mile from the Annie Mae's nightclub.

"When I arrived there, was a firearm on the left hand side of the road in a ditch right in the middle of the culvert," Williams said. "It appeared to have been there for a long time with mud and rust covering it."

Williams explained a man who was picking up trash on the roadway close to his home was the first to find the weapon. Williams said after they inspected the firearm, there appeared to be spent rounds in its magazine.

The next to the stand was United States Deputy Marshal, Michael Rogillio, who was contacted by the Texas Department of Public Safety to help them apprehend Terry Criswell at an address where he was believed to be hiding.

"While we were observing the residence, we saw someone enter the home, and DPS asked us to make contact," Rogillio said. "Mrs. King answered the door and originally told me Criswell was not in the home."

After the woman made a phone call to who he believed to be her mother she then said that Criswell was in fact in the home and law enforcement apprehended him at that home.

Wesley McNeely, a detective with the Angelina County Sheriff's Office, took the stand to provide the longest testimony since the trial has begun. During the trial, McNeely was seen interacting with those attending the trial and appeared to know some of them very well. He first explained responding initially to the hospital and speaking with three witnesses the night of the shooting.

"After recovering evidence from the hospital, I returned to the sheriff's department and filed a warrant for the arrest of Terry Criswell for murder," McNeely said.

He explained that his participation involved taking testimony from eyewitnesses and following a lead that Criswell might be with his ex-wife, Rhonda Shankle.

"When I contacted his ex-wife, she informed me she did see him the previous night, the night of the incident, where he seemed to be intoxicated and possibly under the influence of narcotics," McNeely said.

He explained he next called on the help of the Texas Rangers who were able to utilize other technology from cell phone towers that tracked Criswell to being in the Smith County area where they also learned of a brother who he may have been with.

"We received a tip that Criswell had been seen driving to a residence around 3:00 a.m. the night of the crime, and then they saw him get into another vehicle and drive away," McNeely said.

McNeely investigated the home they believed to be the dwelling of Criswell, where they said they found evidence in a closet containing weapons in November 2015.

"We found a holster with a 50-round box of ammo and a .38-caliber Remington, and we found 48 rounds left, so two were missing," McNeely said. "Those items were found and then placed on the bed along with mail addressed to Terry Criswell to confirm this was his dwelling."

The jury watched a short video taken when officers obtained a search warrant of the suspect's residence, after McNeely had spoken with other witnesses he was able to confirm that Criswell could possibly be at his brother's residence in Tyler.

"The only two people we were not able to take statements from were his brother, Mr. Roberts, and his wife, due to their level of intoxication," McNeely said. "We obtained additional evidence and articles of clothing from the house in Tyler we believed to belong to Criswell."

McNeely confirmed the gun found on the roadway in March did match the description of the gun an eyewitness described seeing on Criswell inside Annie Mae's the night of the shooting.

Two slugs were found during the autopsy, and one was found at the scene, and Peralta questioned McNeely about of the possibility of different guns firing the bullets and asked if he could conclusively say that Terry caused the wounds found in Moore's body.
"I am not an expert on that, so I cannot say that," McNeely said.

Peralta also asked about changing statements provided by Taylor of how many shots he fired and commented that he was fuzzy in the specifics of if he fired shots in the air or on the ground.

"After the autopsy confirmed it was a .38-caliber we excluded Mr. Taylor as a suspect," McNeely said. "The reason he was put in my notes as a top priority due to needing the accuracy of the story."

Peralta stated different witnesses provided a wide variety of shots they heard fired. Some said they heard three to five and others said they heard up to nine, Peralta also questioned the number of times key witnesses changed their statements of what they saw the night of the shooting.

"Do you recall different witnesses giving contradicting testimony about an argument happening before the shooting?" Peralta said. "Do you also remember Ms. Olford saying he pulled up in white vehicle before he shot him, instead of what you have confirmed as him being on foot when he arrived?"

McNeely said that during a situation where there are shots being fired, an average person is not consistent with specifics, but they are consistent with the main theme and this can be from shock. 
"If someone said they heard nine and another said they heard six that is normal in a situation like this," McNeely said.

In the gun found in March, Peralta confirmed there were five spent rounds but it could not be proven that they were fired on the night Kevin Moore died.

For the first time since the trial started, Peralta asked about any gang or organized activity that could have played a part in the shooting, and McNeely said he didn't know the answer to that question.

Peralta questioned McNeely about a statement he had on record from the name Smith that was not followed up on or confirmed that what they saw and reported was correct. He also questioned why additional statements were not taken from other eyewitnesses who reported being with others they were with at the party or talking to the night of the shooting.
"You said that one witness who saw Criswell with a gun was with her twin sister at the time she left the club," Peralta said. "Why was she not questioned or followed up with in order to gain accuracy of what happened that night?"

McNeely said he could not answer that question.

Willie Jefferson, Criswell's cousin, and Melvin White and Kevin Jefferson were believed to have attended the club with Criswell that night, but further investigation found they did not have evidence any shots were fired from these three individuals.

There was confusion between Peralta and McNeely of the number of bullets or shell casings found at the scene of the crime, but McNeely confirmed a spent shell casing was found near the car Moore was seen standing by the night of the shooting.

Peralta questioned charges made against Criswell's wife or ex-wife in connection to comments from several witnesses who said they overheard him telling her to dispose of the possible murder weapon.

"She was put in front of a grand jury and found not guilty on charges she disposed of a murder weapon," McNeely said. "There was evidence she returned to his home sometime after the shooting to retrieve items, but she was not found guilty."

This concluded testimony from McNeely, and the jury has convened for lunch but will begin to hear more testimony at 1 p.m.

Following recess, Dorothy Reagen, who was married to Terry Criswell for 10 years but divorced him in early 2000, took the stand. She said she was also related to Kevin Moore who was her grandson's uncle.

"The Texas Ranger called me after I learned of the killing and asked me to text Terry," Reagen said. "He asked me to call the defendant and try to get him to surrender and turn himself in, which is what I did."

She said she texted Criswell and asked what he had done, but the message was not returned. She did not make any contact with him after that.

Courtney Wassung, who works for DPS as a forensic scientist specializing in fingerprints took the stand after Reagen to explain examination she performed on five shell casings and a revolver.

"There weren't enough ridge characteristics to perform an identification, so I did not even photograph the prints because they were not definable findings," Wassung said.

The state asked Wassung to explain what would happen if the gun had been left to the elements for three months, and she said that would be highly unlikely for any latent prints to be found if this happened.

Kevin Jefferson was the next person to take the stand, and he explained how he, his brother Willie Jefferson, and Kevin White attended Annie Mae's the night of the shooting.

"We were parked near a purple car, and then we talked to Casey and her friend for 10 to 15 minutes," Jefferson said. "I didn't see Criswell at all that night. I was shooting pool in the back the whole time."

He then explained he started talking to Casey who testified during day one of the trial, and then he heard up to six shots ring out.

"My brother turned to me and said, 'Why are we still sitting here? Let's go,'" Jefferson said. "That is when we just hauled butt."

The state asked him if at any time he knew who had been shot, or who was shooting, and he answered no.

During his cross examination Peralta asked Jefferson how much he had to drink that night and he said quite a lot. He also said he did not know Kevin Moore at all before the night of the shooting, adding he also didn't know Taylor, who was reported firing rounds after Moore was shot.

Melvin White, who attended the nightclub with Jefferson, took the stand next. 
"I remember Kevin walked out, and I can't remember her name, but I think it was Yasmin we were talking to her and then Kevin said to come over," White said. "I mean like I said, my music was on so I don't know what he said to her but he didn't look confrontational."

He explained that's when he heard gunshots and turned to Kevin who was driving and told him to leave.

"I turned and said to him, 'Man he done shot Bo Peep,' and, in my mind, it sounded like he unloaded a clip," White said. "I was talking to the guys on my way back and that's exactly what I said, 'Man whoever was shooting just unloaded that thing.'"

He told the jury after he heard the gunshots he witnessed Bo Peep hanging out of the black car that took him to the hospital where he later died and said even remembers telling the person driving to take him to the hospital.

"Melvin, do you know where Willie is right now?" the state asked, repeating the same question he previously asked his brother, Kevin. Melvin said he had not spoken to him since July.

Kevin confirmed that his brother Willie is in Mexico on a cruise.

White continued to answer questions about what he saw that night, including looking down the barrel of the gun but not stopping long enough to see who was shooting it.

Kevin Tunnel, a firearm specialist with DPS, prepared three reports in this case, and he took the stand to provide insight into the three bullets and a box of ammunition that was sent to their office for examination.

"I took the three bullets and compared them together in hopes of making the conclusion that the same firearm shot all three bullets," Tunnel said. "My opinion was that the same firearm fired all three of the bullets."

The state asked him to confirm that a .38-caliber gun shot all three of the bullets, which he was able to do, however he could not limit the gun to a single make and model.

A revolver and five shell casings were also sent over for testing, Tunnel said he would typically test a firearm to determine if it was functioning correctly, because this gun was left outside for three months the lab had to repair missing or broken parts to be able to test it successfully.

"This revolver was an 8-right, but we could not determine if the revolver was the same firearm that shot the three submitted bullets, and I did not compare the cartridge cases because that test was canceled." Tunnel said.

In the cross-examination Peralta asked him to elaborate on the reason that test was canceled. 
Tunnel could not remember who exactly confirmed that this test was canceled, but was asked how many other guns could have fired the same bullet.

He explained 9 mm and a .38-caliber bullets have similar measurements, and Parelta asked if a 9 mm could have been fired out of the same gun. Tunnel said if they were loaded, it was possible, but it was not industry standard.

"There was substantial corrosion to the barrel of the gun, so it was difficult to trace any certain pattern," Tunnel said.

After recalling Detective McNeely and asking him about a holster found at the home of Criswell, the state rested its case.

The defense called to the stand their first witness, Michael Reese who claimed to be Moore's best friend.

To begin the defense asked him to explain why he was in handcuffs to which he responded that after being sentenced to prison for drug related reasons he was out on parole and arrested for unlawful possession of a firearm.

Further questioning of where Reese obtained the firearm led to a disagreement between the witness and defense.

"He (Criswell) said that East Side was better than the North side, that aint no gang that is just the sides of the town, until that man made it about gangs," Reese said.

When the defense asked about an alleged disagreement between Criswell and Moore, Reese answered that the problem was something Criswell brought on himself.

"Man, nobody jumped that boy, he jumped himself when he started talking about things he didn't know and calling me a snitch," Reese said.

This prompted Peralta to again question where Reese received his unlawful firearm to which Reese answered he got it off the streets. From there he was asked if he remembered telling a deputy marshal that he obtained it from Moore.

"No, I do not," Reese said.

Peralta then asked if he was aware that lying under oath would be committing perjury and when Reese nodded that he knew that Peralta asked if he was lying under oath.

"Maybe I am, maybe I'm not," Reese said.

Judge Inselmann paused questioning and addressed the witness directly and said that it was his duty to ensure that everyone who testified told the truth when they were on the stand. He also said that Reese needed to remember the reason he was in jail was based on decisions he previously made to which Reese responded he was just trying to protect himself from Criswell.

Shortly after Reese confirmed there was a disturbance between Moore and Criswell several months before the shooting the defense said they had no further questions.

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