TYLER (KYTX) - Day 2 of Dennis Bendy's murder trial got underway this morning in the Smith County 241st District Court. Bendy is one of three men accused of taking part in a gang-related shootout, the crossfire of which killed 20-year-old Briana Young at Tyler's P.T. Cole Park on July 30, 2013.
Day 1's opening arguments saw District Attorney Matt Bingham describe bendy to the jury as a gang member who lawlessly took a public park and made it a death trap. A gang expert from the Tyler Police Department testified that Bendy is a documented member of the Westside Rolling 60s gang in Tyler. Young's son's aunt, who was at the park the night of the shooting, testified that Young was still alive and gasping for air several minutes after being shot in the chest and leg.
Darrian Lee, an alleged member of a gang that rivals the Westside Rolling 60s, was called into a hearing outside the presence of the jury prior to the resumption of testimony. Bingham told jurors Tuesday that Lee was present at the park on the night of the shooting and that his presence led to Bendy's and co-defendants Rakheem Goldstein's and Elisha Williams' alleged collective decision to fire guns into the crowd at the park.
Judge Jack Skeen, Jr. advised Lee that he had the right under the Fifth Amendment not to incriminate himself and could, therefore, decline to testify for the prosecution against bendy. Skeen also told Lee he had the right to waive that right. Lee elected to waive his right against self-incrimination.
Co-defendant Rakheem Goldstein was also called in a hearing outside the presence of the jury. Goldstein is accused of murder more as an accomplice under the state's "law of parties." He is alleged to have been in the car with Bendy on the night of the shooting but not alleged to have actually fired a gun.
Judge Skeen advised Goldstein of the same rights under the Fifth Amendment. Goldstein said he also elected to testify for the prosecution.
With the jury seated, the first witness called was Amanda Cook. Cook is the Public Safety Administrator for the Tyler Police Department. She is the custodian of records for 911 calls made to the department.
Cook testified that the department received eight 911 calls in reference to the shooting.
Assistant District Attorney Kenneth Biggs introduced into evidence a recording of the third phone call. Judge Skeen then dismissed Cook as a witness.
Biggs called Lee back to the stand, now in the presence of the jury.
"First, let me ask you, are you a gang member?" Biggs asked.
"Yes sir," Lee said.
Lee went on to testify that he was at the park on the night of the shooting, that he knew Young and that he had been with her that night. He testified that K.J. Wilson Hurd, another alleged gang member who was at the park that night, is a friend of his. He said he and Hurd were driving a white Cadillac that night.
Lee testified that he and Hurd went to the park because someone in the larger group of friends that later gathered there called and asked them to come.
As have many other witnesses, Lee made a large diagram for the jury on a transparent overlay of the official park schematic. He drew where he, Hurd and Young were, as well as where the Cadillac was parked.
Lee testified that Hurd was armed, and expressed a concern upon arriving at the park that there might be some Westside Rolling 60s gang members in the park. At the time, Lee said, he was wrong.
Lee said the group he was visiting with ended up at a picnic table on the south end of the park. It was at that point, he said, that he and Hurd noticed the white Hyundai Elantra circling the park. Previous testimony places Bendy in that car around the time of the shooting. Lee said the Hyundai stopped and parked diagonally behind his Cadillac.
It was shortly thereafter that the shooting started. Lee said one shooter was on foot, and that he did not recognize him. He said additional shots were fired from inside the Elantra. He described the pace of the shooting by clapping his hands rapidly.
"What did you do?" Biggs asked.
"I hit the ground," Lee said.
"What about Briana?" Biggs asked.
"I'm not sure what happened to her or [her son]," Lee said.
Lee said his Cadillac had sustained damage from the gunfire, and that Hurd threw his own gun at the Elantra as it drove off. Lee said Hurd's gun was not loaded that night.
After the shooting ended, Lee said he and Hurd left in the Cadillac and were pulled over shortly thereafter by a Tyler Police officer. They were arrested at that time.
"Do you know who the target of the shooting was?" Biggs asked.
"K.J.," Lee said.
"Why?" Biggs asked.
"They always had problems with each other," Lee said.
"Who did?" Biggs asked.
"Him and the Rolling 60s," Lee said.
Lee said he had seen Bendy earlier in the day prior to the shooting. At the time, he said, he did not know who Bendy was. Lee said the encounter happened when he and Hurd were at a gas station, agreeing that there was a "feud" between Hurd and the Westside Rolling 60s.
Lee said there was a discussion of a truce between the factions while at the gas station, and that Bendy appeared to agree.
"Do you think [you and Hurd's] presence at the park that night was in violation of that truce?" Biggs asked.
"Yeah," Lee said.
"Do you remember Mr. Bendy remarking during the discussion of the truce that he 'couldn't control these youngsters?'" Biggs asked.
"Yes," Lee said.
Biggs then passed the witness.
Defense attorney Rex Thompson challenged Lee's claim that the Elantra allegedly driven by Bendy was the same car that was at the park that night. Lee conceded that it was possible it was a different Elantra.
"Can you say for sure that the person who got out of the [Elantra] on Shaw street is the person who fired the first shots?" Thompson asked.
"Yes it was," Lee said.
Thompson asked how close Lee came to the Elantra before it drove away. Lee said he did not recall and could not provide a distance estimate. Thompson asked whether Lee knew who was firing a gun from the Elantra. Lee said he did not.
"And regarding your 2013 failure to I.D. conviction, that's basically lying to the cops," Thompson said. "Is it not?"
"Yes," Lee said.
Goldstein, Bendy's co-defendant, was called as the next witness. Bingham said no deal had been made in exchange for Goldstein's testimony.
"Why are you doing this?" Bingham asked.
"Just trying to do the right thing," Goldstein said.
"Are you a gang member?" Bingham asked.
"Yes," Goldstein said.
"What gang?" Bingham asked.
"Rolling 60s," Goldstein said.
"Are there any other Rolling 60s in here today?" Bingham asked.
"Other than Bendy, no," Goldstein said.
Goldstein testified that he had been involved in the Westside Rolling 60s and known Bendy for three to four years and had become involved out of a simple desire to "belong to something." Goldstein said the Westside Rolling 60s are not terribly organized in Tyler. He testified that he was in the habit, leading up to the shooting, of seeing Bendy two to three times a week.
"What kind of things did you and Mr. Bendy do together?" Bingham asked.
"Hang out, smoke weed, things like that.," Goldstein said.
Goldstein testified that co-defendant Elisha Williams was also a member of the Westside Rolling 60s. He also testified that Hurd was a member of the Five Deuce Hoover Crips and was "not a favorite" of the Westside Rolling 60s.
Golstein agreed that there had been a feud between Hurd and Bendy and that they had seen each other earlier in the day on the day of the shooting. He said Bendy was upset because Hurd had shot at him previously. He said the feud had been in place for approximately six months prior to the shooting at the park.
Goldstein refuted assertions from the defense that Bendy is not a gang member and was not in the Elantra the night of the shooting.
"He was there," Goldstein said.
"How do you know?" Bingham asked.
"I was with him," Goldstein said.
Goldstein identified various members of the Westside Rolling 60s making gang hand signs in photographs. He demonstrated and explained the hand sign in front of the jury.
Goldstein testified that photos showing the silver Lincoln and the white Elantra did depict specific cars belonging to Bendy and Goldstein's ex-girlfriend, respectively.
Bingham displayed a photo of an AK-47 and a Glock 9mm. Goldstein said both guns were in the car with him and Bendy that night. He testified that Bendy fired the Glock repeatedly. Goldstein said he did not fire the AK-47 he was holding himself because he did not know how to operate it.
Goldstein testified that Bendy called him at 7pm on the evening of the shooting and that he "wanted to talk."
"He said that K.J. [Wilson-Hurd] had shot at him that day," Goldstein said. "He was hysterical, upset about it."
Goldstein testified that he met Bendy and others at the home of a friend to discuss the matter, where Bendy told them the shooting had happened about an hour earlier on Earl Campbell Parkway.
"At the time he said 'whenever I see him I'm going to retaliate,'" Goldstein said.
"But how did you end up at the park?" Bingham asked.
"Elisha [Williams, co-defendant] got a call out of the blue," Goldstein said, indicating that the group was tipped off as to Hurd's presence at the park.