COLUMBUS, Ga. (WTVM) - The trial for two of five suspects accused of a 2016 armed robbery turned homicide is underway.
Jalontaye Cleveland and Courtney Williams are accused of a 2016 armed robbery at 5 Corner Lotto on Linwood Blvd. which led to the death of Vastal Patel.
Jury selection was completed Monday and opening statements have now begun.
Three attorneys stood before the jury today and presented their initial statements. Don Kelly gave specifics of the investigation, connected the dots and asked the jury to find the co-defendants guilty. Then Adam Deaver and Jennifer Curry asked the jury to remember their promise to remain unbiased and provide an uncompromised verdict.
“Mr. Cleveland steps back and fires a shot," Kelly said in his opening statements.
Don Kelly said the co-defendants, not on trial today, identified Williams as the getaway car driver and Cleveland as the shooter.
In the defense’s opening statements, Adam Deaver represented Williams.
“There’s no video of Mr. Williams whatsoever," Deaver said. "No DNA, no fingerprints.”
Deaver said there are holes in the case. He asked the jury to remember their promise to consider all the evidence, take notes and remain unbiased.
Jennifer Curry had similar requests. She reminded the jury this trial was not about finding out what happened... but who did it. She ended her opening statements explaining the state’s burden of proof.
“Is everyone okay with understanding a compromised verdict would be unacceptable in any criminal matter?" Curry asked. "Because that burden is so high, it’s so important that it would be an injustice to send someone to prison for something they did not do.”
The jury’s job, according to Judge Bobby Peters, “you will be deciding all of the facts of the case, then I will give you the law. You’ll take the law in tune with those facts and make your determination individually and collectively on what you feel like the evidence has shown.”
Following opening statements, the state brought four Columbus Police Department employees before the court.
Assistant District Attorney Don Kelly called the first two responders to the scene of the murder to the stand this afternoon. He also called, at the time a Sergeant in Patrol, Jeff Kraus to the stand to learn more about the fatal night back in November 2016.
Kelly asked, “What was the nature of that call?”
“The call originally came out as shots fired, someone reported to 9-1-1 there had been shots," Kraus said. "Once the first officer arrived on scene, he learned that someone had actually been shot near the store, or two people.”
Defense Attorney William Kendrick asked Sgt. Kraus about an initial suspect, a white man wearing camo. Kraus confirmed that was the initial description. Kendrick then asked if his client, Courtney Williams, was a white man before taking his seat.
The defense said there are more than 40 witnesses expected to take the stand over the next few weeks.... including most if not all of the co-defendents in this case.
News Leader 9′s Samantha Serbin is in court as the trial continues.
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