Starlight Six Killer to Stand Trial

Sorry: alleged killer. The article tells the story pretty well:

Lawyers will begin choosing a jury this morning to hear the murder case against Quentric Shaymond Williams, whom prosecutors will try to prove killed martial arts expert Mitt Lenix

Lenix, 28, was looking for help to jump-start his car when he encountered Williams, who police say was making out with his girlfriend inside a rented pick-up truck.

Williams fired, killing Lenix, then sped away leading police on a high-speed chase from the DeKalb County drive-in theater at the edge of Atlanta’s city limits on Moreland Drive to Gwinnett County where he ditched his truck and evaded police.

During the chase, police said Williams, 33, tossed nearly $10,000 in cash out of the truck, and stashed a gun in a Gwinnett homeowner’s backyard after crashing the truck and abandoning it, a second handgun, his girlfriend, and another near-$10,000 bundle.

The Starlight Six is an intown Atlanta institution: one of the last functioning drive-in movie theaters in the USA. One of the top ten destinations you’d take your friend who was visiting from out of town. The people that run it use it as a flea market during the day—I’ve never actually been to this—and a six-screen movie theater at night. Double feature for $7, bring whatever you want in the car. I used to go with a group of hipsters all the time before our babies got too old for the R-rated movies. People hang out, chat, have a good time. Most people bring lawn chairs; some stay in their cars. It’s a friendly, nice environment: you can almost see the stars overhead.

So Williams is not only a murderer, he’s a total douchebag: there’s just no reason to fear anyone at the Starlight Six. Guy walks up to your car because he needs a jump-start, you get out and help the man. Which is what makes this story terrifying to me and tons of people I know.

You see, we were all there the week before Lenix was killed. And some other guy was too busy smoking weed in his car and making out with his girlfriend that he left his headlights on. So two of my friends went up to knock on his window and ask him to turn the lights off. He was catatonically baked, but his girlfriend figured it out and shut the lights off, and everyone was cool. Later, my friends mentioned they were kind of nervous when they knocked on the guy’s window. And then exactly seven days later, poor Mr. Lenix gets shot in the exact same circumstances.

Too bad the death penalty doesn’t apply here, as it wasn’t murder with forethought or other special circumstances. Because in this case, I wouldn’t mind at all.

The Failure of Eyewitness Testimony

After 12 years in jail for a shooting in which he assuredly did not pull the trigger, David Peralta has been granted a new trial. Not that he’s by any means a nice guy:

Superior Court Judge Daniel Coursey determined this week there is a reasonable probability that new evidence initially uncovered by federal authorities would result in a different verdict — not guilty — in the murder case against David Peralta. For this reason, Coursey granted Peralta’s motion for a new trial.

Peralta was convicted during a five-day trial held six months after the Jan. 25, 2001, murder of 22-year-old Rebecca Moore of Norcross. Prosecutors said Peralta, then a member of the Latin Kings gang, killed Moore because she openly criticized him in front of other gang members and was threatening to disclose their sexual relationship to Peralta’s fiancee, who was pregnant with his child.

New trial nearly always equals time served or an acquittal. Because as it turns out, the eyewitness testimony, as it nearly always does, failed:

At Peralta’s trial, none of the passengers in the Cadillac identified Peralta as the shooter, but one said he saw the shooter out of the corner of his eye. He described the shooter as a light-skinned, bald-headed Hispanic man riding in the front passenger seat of a dark-green, four-door Honda with shiny rims.

This could be anyone who lives on Buford Highway. Ten to one the witness was prompted by the cops, who probably had their sights on Peralta and found this as good a reason as any to put him behind bars. It’s the sort of eyewitness testimony that is the reason I’ll never be on a murder jury, because I would go back to the jury room and say “Are you flippin’ kidding me?”

The new evidence came to light years later during a federal investigation of violent street gang activity. Two gang members told FBI agents and a federal grand jury that 16-year-old Daniel Cortes was Moore’s actual killer. Cortes, a member of the Sur-13 gang, was fatally shot at a Roswell park two months after Moore was killed.

Key statements come from two men who said they were in the car with Cortes when he fired shots into the Cadillac. Coursey noted that these two men’s statements are significant because they were essentially admitting to being parties to the crime.

These two guys were testifying against their own best interests, so they’re 100 times more convincing than Some Dude who saw a guy who sort of looked like Peralta out of the corner of his eye. But make no mistake: Peralta’s not a good guy; he just didn’t do this particular crime.

This is a dynamite story from the perspective of writing fiction. The key piece of information the article doesn’t give us is what the relationship between the Latin Kings and the Sur-13 gangs are—and it matters in real life, as well. If the gangs are rivals, then Cortes is just getting one over on the enemy, and Peralta (and poor Rebecca Moore) are innocent victims.

But if the gangs are allied, or if the Kings are the umbrella gang, then it’s still more sinister. Because Peralta could have easily ordered Cortes’s gang boss to have someone kill Moore, or maybe have done it indirectly, in a “who will rid me of this troublesome babymomma” sort of way.

Imagine Cortes as the young soldier who realizes Moore is becoming a problem for Peralta, and takes it upon himself to kill her, thinking he’ll be rewarded. But corrupt cops persuade the witness to finger Peralta, and down he goes, because he was a bald Hispanic man in a car with shiny rims at the wrong time. Imagine being Cortes, knowing you’re ultimately going to get it much worse. Imagine being the detective, trying to sort out the baroque relationships among a bunch of Hispanic gangs using only high-school Spanish, racing against time to try to prove to the DA that Cortes was acting on something that could be said to have been Peralta’s orders.

Make Sure Your Victim is Illiterate

Let’s all take a moment to show some respect for Candice Parchment, a 15-year-old girl from inner-ring suburban Clayton County who was murdered by then 18-year-old Marshae O’Brian Hickman in April 2010. Her body wasn’t found until the following November, beneath “an abandoned mattress behind the apartment complex where Hickman used to live.”

This week, Hickman got life without parole for his deeds: one can only wonder why he didn’t get the death penalty. Why did Hickman get convicted? Because poor Candice wrote about it:

In her diary, Parchment wrote that Hickman and Jermaine Robinson tried to rape her in an abandoned home in their neighborhood in January 2010, according to police records.

Robinson pleaded guilty to aggravated assault for hitting Parchment in the head that night, and he would later testify against Hickman.

A year after her body was found, Candice’s mother found the diary and turned it over to the police, who used it to pressure Robinson into testifying against Hickman.

So let’s all say a prayer or good thought of our choice for this teen whose picture (click through to see it in the article) makes her the sort of spunky, happy teen who stood right out in a hellhole that had an abandoned home that could be used as a rape house and the sort of apartment complex where nobody would bother to turn over an abandoned mattress for seven months.

And let’s say one for her mom, who after going through all the stages of grief found this diary, and read it, and who probably screamed all over again, begging whatever god she worships why in the world her daughter didn’t TELL HER about the rape attempt instead of writing it down. Imagine the mother, working so hard to keep her daughter on the good side of things that Candice didn’t want to bother her with it.

Mr. Hickman, of course, need not be in our prayers or thoughts, except insofar as to hope that turnabout is fair play.

Shadetree Garage Murder

Just a snippet of a story, but one of those that opens up all kinds of things from a fiction perspective:

A DeKalb County man who refurbished and sold cars out of his Columbia Drive home, was shot and killed Sunday afternoon.

DeKalb County police spokesman D.C. Hamilton said officers responded to emergency calls of gunshots at around 12:30 p.m. He said the victim, who was not identified, was alive when paramedics arrived, but died at the hospital.

“Nobody is in custody and nobody has been arrested yet,” Hamilton said. “We are still sorting things out.”

Throughout the rainy afternoon, as police combed through evidence in the man’s yard, neighbors gathered across the street.

They said the man was well known in the neighborhood, mainly because he had a yard full of cars that he sold. Nearly a dozen cars were currently in the yard.

“He was a nice guy,” said Daisy Glover, who has lived in the area for 19 years. “I don’t know why anyone would want to shoot him.”

Right off the bat, I can think of an awesome plot. This poor nameless man will have an analogue in my story. Sure, he’ll fix your car, but where he really cashes in is customization: he has a knack for adding secret compartments to cars, so that drugs or cash can be transported, and he does it in such a way that cops never think to look in these places. So he’s incredibly valuable, and dangerous, to local gang types.

Act One is where the cops try to figure out who might have killed him. Like Ms. Glover said, he’s a nice guy, and nobody can think of a reason anyone would want to shoot him. There’s a girlfriend or a landlord or something, but it doesn’t seem like much.

Then, they stumble upon one of the secret compartments: one of the dudes at Car CSI figures it out. Holy cow, these are tricky. Off the cops go tracing who brought in a car and got it customized in this way. On the way, they discover both a) a plausible dissatisfied customer who’s a big gang lord they’ve had their eye on for years, and b) a completely unrelated murder that these compartments end up solving—they trace a gun found in another car’s compartment and it leads them to the killer.

Act Three, they think they have the gang lord in their sights, but look, man, he didn’t do it: the garage guy was valuable to him, and a nice guy that nobody would want to shoot. They *almost* get the gang lord, and they do manage to nail one of his top lieutenants. But even when offered a lesser sentence, the leader is like “I really didn’t do it.”

Only as she’s leaving the state do they track down the ex-girlfriend, who had no bloody idea about the customization but was mad as a hornet at him because he spent too much time fixing cars and not enough paying attention to her. Fiction is so much fun.