Players testify about shooting that killed teammate
A Durham County Sheriff's captain testified in the murder trial of Gabriel James Gamez Tuesday that he urged Darrell Turner to hang on, that his mother loved and needed him, but Turner appeared to take his last gasp as he held Turner's hand.
Gamez, 24, is standing trial for first degree murder in the death of Darrell Turner, 18, and the wounding of Thomas Woodson and for shooting and attempting to kill their five teammates June 23, 2011.
Turner, an 18-year-old high school football player from Pennsylvania, had gone to dinner with teammates when he was shot and killed as they were walking back to their hotel.
Gamez, 24, who is from San Antonio, Texas, was staying at another hotel in the area. He, too, had just eaten at a different restaurant when he crossed paths with the football players in front of the AT&T store in the Patterson Place shopping center near the I-40/U.S. 15-501 interchange.
Jury selection was completed Monday at the Durham County Courthouse, and Tuesday morning, the attorneys gave brief opening statements. Defense attorney Rebecca Wiggins simply asked the jurors to pay careful attention to each witness, judge their credibility and compare their stories.
She did not speak about the evidence or her defense strategy to the jurors, but during a pre-trial hearing, she indicated she was going to claim Gamez shot at Turner and his teammates in self defense.
Testimony late Tuesday indicated the confrontation between Gamez and the elite squad of football players who attended high schools in the Pittsburgh, Pa., area, may have started over a peanut.
The football players were members of a seven-on-seven squad of all-star players who competed in tournaments up and down the East Coast against other seven-member squads. The team was headed to Florida for a tournament when they stopped in Durham for the night.
Several of Turner's teammates testified they had eaten dinner at Five Guys Burgers and Fries, which serves free peanuts to its customers. As the team members walked to their hotel across Mt. Moriah Road, some were eating peanuts and tossing the shells on the ground.
No one paid much attention when they passed a man walking in the opposite direction, but he began yelling that someone hit him with something.
"He was just yelling, 'Which one of you guys threw something at me?' " said Isaiah Faulk, one of the players in the group. Faulk said he was walking next to Turner.
"I turned around like the rest of the group turned around to see what he was talking about," Faulk said.
Turner was the last person in his group, and the man seemed to be talking directly to Turner, Faulk said.
Football player Robert Foster testified he heard the guy asking, "Which one of you guys threw something at me?"
The man kept repeating the question but began calling them obscene names and "false names," Foster said.
When asked what he meant by "false names," Foster said he meant the word "nigger."
All the players were black except for one, Dustin Creel, Foster said. The man was white.
"Everyone started to get affected by the racial slurs, and we started, we were like getting close and then Darrell threw his cup down on the ground," Foster said.
Turner threw the cup on the ground, not at the man, but water or ice may have splashed on him, several players said.
Creel, who had been walking near the front of the group, testified that he and the other teammates turned to see what the man was yelling about. When he raised his shirt to show the gun, Foster grabbed his shoulder and everyone began running away.
"I had turned around and probably took one big step and that's when I started hearing the fire," Creel said.
The players ran in different directions. When they crossed Mt. Moriah Road, they started to check on each other, and they saw a player, Thomas Woodson, had fallen next to Outback Steakhouse. He had been shot in the leg, was bleeding profusely and yelling in pain.
In her cross-examination of the players, defense attorney Rebecca Wiggins asked about their height and weight compared to the man they encountered.
The players, who appeared to be regular-sized high school students, admitted they were taller and heavier than the man, whom one estimated to be about 5 feet 9 inches tall and 140 pounds.
Wiggins asked them about how they moved closer to the man during the argument.
Creel said he saw Turner step toward the man and thought he might be getting to ready to fight when the man showed the gun.
After the players ran, some saw Capt. Rickey Padgett of the Durham County Sheriff's Office, who was working off-duty for the Outback Steakhouse.
Padgett told jurors he had driven around the Kanki Japanese Steak House next to Outback when he heard five or six loud shots, then heard screaming.
As he drove his unmarked SUV between the two restaurants, he saw several young men running toward him, yelling someone had been shot. He drove across Mt. Moriah to the AT&T parking lot, where he saw a 17- or 18-year-old male victim on the ground.
The teenager was struggling to breathe, Padgett said. He tried to help Turner, as he radioed for help, relayed a description of the shooter and looked to make sure the shooter wasn't returning.
The teen's eyes were open and he was unresponsive, Padgett said.
"I took him by the hand and assured him that his family needed him to be there, that he was a very important part of their life and he needed to be there," Padgett said.
A cell phone on the ground next to Turner kept ringing. Padgett said the phone showed "mom" was calling.
"I kept saying, 'Hang on. Your mommy loves you,'" Padgett said.
Turner's breath became shallow and just as an ambulance arrived, Padgett said he heard Turner gasp and take his last breath.
The trial is scheduled to continue this morning.