published Wednesday, July 31st, 2013

Trial opens for man charged in 2011 shooting homicide

There were .32-caliber spent casings that littered the floor. Pools of blood stained the furniture and a rug. Small bags of crack cocaine were found strewn about the living room.

Jeffrey Dunnigan, who was 16 at the time, remembers getting kicked, stomped and stunned with a Taser by two intruders inside his home in 2011.

What followed were bursts of gunfire which injured his mother and killed her boyfriend.

On Tuesday, the trial for Jerrico “Ri-Ri” Hawthorne began. Hawthorne, a member of the Gangster Disciples, faces charges in the slaying of 23-year-old James “J Money” Williams Jr.

Dunnigan remembers walking into the living room where he found Williams dying.

“I don’t know what to do to a person who is shot,” Dunnigan said.

Williams was shot as many as 10 times on July 27, 2011, at a residence at 2305 E. 17th St.

Hawthorne is accused of taking money from Williams before shooting him. Hawthorne was reportedly waiting behind the door of a residence when Williams, a known drug dealer, entered.

“People who sell drugs don’t deserve to die. They don’t deserve to be shot,” said Cameron Williams, assistant district attorney during opening statements.

James Williams who was barely conscious as first responders were called, died on the way to the hospital, according to testimony.

Five bullets were found inside his body. A forensics expert with Tennessee Bureau of Investigation testified that the bullets belonged to .32-caliber and .22-caliber guns.

His girlfriend, Yetta Harris, 38, was shot three times. Harris spent weeks in the hospital recovering. When police arrived, she was found near a pile of her own vomit and blood. She managed to make it halfway outside the front door and yelled for help.

A man who was nearby called 911. Dunnigan said he also called for help on a cellphone.

Cameron Williams told jurors during opening statements that Harris and other witnesses would identify Hawthorne as the gunman.

“They’re going to point to that man right there, Ri-Ri. ‘He’s the one who did it,’ … He’s the one who came in and committed a cowardly cold blooded act,” Williams said.

Chattanooga Police Officer Gary Frisbee was the first officer on scene. He asked Harris who shot her.

“She said, ‘Ri-Ri did this to me,’” he said when he took the stand. “By looking at her, I didn’t think she was going to make it.”

Amanda Dunn, a defense attorney who is representing Hawthorne, told jurors to question how the eyewitnesses identified Hawthorne.

“What opportunity did they truly have to see these intruders? … What vantage point did they have to see these people?” she said during opening statements.

When Frisbee took the stand, she asked, “She didn’t give you the name Jerrico? She didn’t give you a description of the person who shot her?”

An expert will testify about eyewitness observation and line-ups conducted by investigators, Dunn said.

She said other people could fit the suspect description that was matched to Hawthorne.

The trial is scheduled to last throughout the remainder of the week before Hamilton County Criminal Court Judge Rebecca Stern.

Hawthorne has another co-defendant, Deangelo “Fookie” Justice, a fellow gang member, who is being tried separately.

Laquila Bailey, who was charged with accessory to first degree murder after the fact, had her charge dismissed Monday. She was found with Hawthorne in motel room when he was arrested.

Contact staff writer Beth Burger at bburger@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6406. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/abburger.

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