Police told Korleone Young several times that his statement wasn’t crucial to the case.
“It’s like a puzzle, and you’re just one piece,” Detective Dan Harty told Young during an interview at City Hall two days after Andre Lovett was shot to death.
When a videotape of that interview was played in a Sedgwick County courtroom Wednesday, the jury never heard Young identify Terrell Cole as the person who shot Lovett.
But Young, who admitted during the interview that he feared for his safety, offered what prosecutors now say was at least a tentative identification. They said it came when Young took a photo lineup page containing six mug shots, then folded the page so that only Cole’s face was showing. He then slid the paper across an interview table to a police officer.
It’s unlikely that Young or any of the officers involved in that Jan. 21, 2011, interview knew at the time that Young’s “identification” would prove to be a crucial piece of evidence in Cole’s first-degree murder trial.
Prosecutors said the murder occurred on Jan. 19, 2011, when Cole and Lovett tried to rob a house at 1822 N. Minneapolis where a group of people had gathered to drink, gamble and shoot dice. During the course of the robbery, police said, Cole fired his gun at Young as he ran from the house. But the bullet meant for Young struck Lovett in the abdomen, police said, and he died the next day.
Jurors learned last week that someone driving a blue Chevrolet Uplander – the car that Cole had been driving that day – dropped Lovett off at Wesley Medical Center that night and the car was later found abandoned near Cole’s home in south Wichita. But no one was able to put Cole behind the wheel that night, and defense lawyer Richard Ney told the jury that a number of people had access to the car.
None of the witnesses in the house at the time of the attempted robbery was able to identify Cole as the shooter. Young told the jury last week that he never intended to suggest in his 2011 taped interview that he could positively identify Cole as the shooter.
In his taped statement to Hasty, Young said things happened too fast for him to identify anyone.
“He rushed in, cocked the gun and I’m gone,” he told Hasty. “All I can say is it was a black, African-American individual. … If you had a silhouette (lineup), maybe I could match the silhouette.”
But Young’s demeanor in the interview changed when Hasty and another homicide detective were replaced in the room by Officer Stella Boyd, whom Young treated as an old friend.
“You know I live around here,” Young told Boyd at one point. “People recognize me. People are going to be suspicious if I come in here and talk to police.”
Boyd said she understood Young’s concerns but pressed forward with the photo lineup.
“Do you know the guy?” she asked. “You don’t have to write nothing. You don’t have to sign nothing. All you have to do is point.”
Young, who appeared to be in tears, began folding the lineup sheet and pushed it across the table with Cole’s picture showing.
Throughout the trial, defense lawyer Richard Ney has suggested that the real killer was an acquaintance of Lovett’s who used the nickname “Big.” Cellphone records showed that Lovett and “Big” exchanged several calls and text messages in the hours before the shooting.
Jurors on Wednesday met “Big” when prosecutors called to the stand Gregory “Big” Reynolds as one of their last witnesses. He said he is serving time in an Oklahoma prison on a federal drug charge. Reynolds told the jury that the calls and texts to Lovett were made in an attempt to buy marijuana. He said he never saw Lovett that day.
On cross-examination, Ney suggested that prosecutors were essentially asking Reynolds to confess to a homicide that he hadn’t been charged with.
“Would you happily add a life sentence to the time you’re already serving?” Ney asked.
“I’ve got a conscience,” Reynolds replied. “I don’t know if I’d happily do it, but I’d do it.”
The defense is expected to begin presenting its evidence on Thursday.