TYLER (KYTX) - 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.