Three co-defendants charged in connection with the July 27 slaying of a 23-year-old Chattanooga man may face an indictment.
Hamilton County Sessions Court Judge Bob Moon set bonds, reduced some charges and sent the cases against Jerrico “Ri-Ri” Hawthorne, Deangelo “Fookie” Justice and Laquila Bailey to the grand jury after a three-hour preliminary hearing Tuesday.
Hawthorne and Justice face first-degree murder charges in the case. Moon reduced especially aggravated robbery charges against Justice and Hawthorne to attempted especially aggravated robbery. He increased Hawthorne’s bond to $1.5 million and ordered Justice be held without bond.
Bailey is free on a $10,000 bond on an accessory after the fact charge, and Moon did not raise her bond.
Victim Yetta Harris, 38, testified in the hearing that Hawthorne, 24, was waiting behind her door when she and her boyfriend, 23-year-old James Williams Jr., returned home that evening to 2305 E. 17th St.
Hawthorne put a semiautomatic pistol in her face and forced her to the floor, she said. When Williams entered the home, Hawthorne took money from him, then shot him, she said.
A medical examiner’s report said he was shot as many as 14 times.
“I heard James say, ‘Ri-Ri, Jerrico, why you doing this?’” Harris testified. “I begged him, ‘Don’t kill him. Please don’t kill him.’”
Harris and her 18-year-old son, Jeffrey Dunnigan, both testified that neither knew Hawthorne nor Justice before the alleged incident.
Harris told attorneys she believed Williams wanted her to know Hawthorne’s name as the man shot him.
After Hawthorne shot Williams, another man came into the room and told Hawthorne to shoot her, she testified. Lying face down on the floor, she could only see the man out of the corner of her eye, but later identified him in a photo lineup for police.
That identification and how it was obtained both bother Justice’s court-appointed attorney, Bill Speek.
“It wasn’t clear that my client was involved,” Speek said after the hearing. “The only connection my client has to this alleged crime comes from a photo lineup that was taken several weeks after.”
On Tuesday, both Speek and Hawthorne’s attorney, Jeffrey Schaarschmidt, questioned Harris, Dunnigan and Chattanooga homicide Detective Jayevan Montgomery thoroughly about how they identified Hawthorne and Justice.
Montgomery testified that investigators learned the nickname “Ri-Ri” from confidential informants, and he then searched police databases and found Hawthorne as a match. Another informant gave him the name “Fookie,” which led him to Justice through the same methods, Montgomery said.
Speek criticized how Montgomery conducted photo lineups when testimony revealed that Dunnigan and Harris were in the same room, about 6 feet away from each other.
Harris said Dunnigan first identified Justice using the photos police provided, then she identified the same man immediately afterward.
“That’s so important in this case,” Speek said. “The only way [Hawthorne and Justice] are tied together is on a photo lineup, and that’s why we attack it.”
Todd South covers courts, poverty, technology, military and veterans for the Times Free Press. He has worked at the paper since 2008 and previously covered crime and safety in Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia. Todd’s hometown is Dodge City, Kan. He served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps and deployed to Iraq before returning to school for his journalism degree from the University of Georgia. Todd previously worked at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. Contact ...