Sabrina Lovett wipes away tears as she testifies during a preliminary hearing in Judge Bob Moon's court in the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Courts Building on Tuesday morning for defendants Nathan Lalone, Tyler Conrad and Blakelen Adams on charges in the Nov. 16 shooting death of Christian Sosa in Apison. She had spent most of the day with the three defendants on Nov. 16.
Witness Meghan Bennett shows her broken finger to Judge Bob Moon as she testifies during a preliminary hearing in the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Courts Building on Tuesday morning for defendants Natan Lalone, Tyler Conrad and Blakelen Adams on charges in the Nov. 16 shooting death of Christian Sosa in Apison. Bennett was shot twice while sitting in the car with the murder victim, her boyfriend.
A reluctant 16-year-old witness testified Tuesday that a man accused of murder told friends shortly after the shooting that he had put a bullet in the victim's head.
Sabrina Lovett spoke in a whisper throughout most of her testimony and at times did not respond to attorneys' questions during a preliminary hearing in the courtroom of Hamilton County Sessions Court Judge Bob Moon.
Nathan Lalone, 20, is charged with first-degree murder and attempted first-degree murder in the killing of 19-year-old Christian Sosa on Nov. 16.
"What did Nate tell you in the car?" Executive Assistant District Attorney Neal Pinkston asked Lovett on Tuesday.
Her shoulders began to shake.
"You're going to have to answer the question," Pinkston told Lovett as she continued to hesitate.
"What did he tell you?" Pinkston repeated twice as Lovett began to wipe away tears.
"He said he'd hit him in the dome," she said.
The term is a slang reference to shooting someone in the head, according to both Moon and Pinkston.
Police also found Lalone's Tennessee driver's license in the pocket of a pair of sweatpants found 150 yards from the shooting scene.
"What it is for the state to have a gift of a Tennessee driver's license of the alleged defendant," Moon commented at the end of the hearing.
The judge sent the charges against Lalone to the grand jury for a possible indictment.
Lovett said she had spent most of the evening of Nov. 16 with Lalone, Blakelen Adams and Tyler Conrad, both 19. The group was smoking marijuana, and she was listening to Lalone and Adams yell about how angry they were at Sosa. She testified that Lalone told her Sosa had stolen a gun from him earlier that year and Adams said Sosa also stole from him.
Police say the pair convinced Conrad to call Sosa on his cellphone and have Sosa meet him near a lighted tennis court in the 4500 block of Bill Jones Road in Apison.
Lovett testified that she heard Conrad call Sosa, but didn't hear the conversation.
Conrad has been charged with conspiracy to commit both first-degree murder and attempted first-degree murder, charges that Moon also sent to the grand jury.
In the hearing, Moon dismissed the same charges against Adams, saying Pinkston had not shown that Adams had participated in the conspiracy to shoot Sosa. But Moon revoked Adams' previous probation, sending him to jail for a year.
Prosecutors also may charge Adams with the same crime if they bring new evidence that meets the criteria for the conspiracy charge, Moon said.
All three defendants were on probation at the time of the shooting. Moon also revoked the probations of Lalone and Conrad.
Sosa's girlfriend, Meghan Bennett, 20, also was shot, with one bullet lodging in her lung, collapsing it, another grazing her right middle finger, breaking the bone.
She testified after Lovett on Tuesday, telling the court what she remembered of that night.
She said Conrad had called Sosa multiple times and said he wanted to meet at the tennis courts to smoke marijuana. Bennett said she drove her Honda Civic to the courts and backed into a parking space about 10:15 p.m.
Crying during her recounting, Bennett said she saw a man in black with a black ski mask covering his nose and mouth start shooting at the car.
"Christian looked up. He was telling me, 'Go, baby, go,'" she said.
Bennett said she drove away as fast as she could with a badly wounded Sosa next to her.
"I was screaming at him, telling him to breathe," she said. Sosa died in the car.
A Hamilton County medical examiner's report would show as many as 17 entry and exit wounds in Sosa's body. Police recovered between 10 and 15 shell casings at the scene and a .40-caliber Glock pistol elsewhere, but that has not been verified as the weapon used.
Police received emergency calls of "shots fired" from a home near the tennis courts about 10:26 p.m. Store cameras at the Gunbarrel Road Walmart show Conrad, Adams and Lovett entering the store at 10:35 p.m. while Lalone came to the store parking lot in his Cadillac at 10:50 p.m.
Lalone left the store in the group's car, where police later recovered the vehicle.
Contact staff writer Todd South at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6347.
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 ...