TRENTON, Ga. -- Prosecutors claim a Dade County man, on trial on charges of stabbing a Chattanooga man, planned the attack around a fake drug deal, then jumped the man when he walked inside the house.
Trial for 19-year-old Johnathan Ellison, who is charged with malice murder, two counts of felony murder, aggravated assault and armed robbery, began Monday afternoon after a jury of nine woman and three men was selected in Dade County Superior Court.
Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit Assistant District Attorney Len Gregor told the jury in opening statements that evidence would show Ellison and his friend 27-year-old James Oglesby -- whose trial is next year -- persuaded Antwane Hyatte to come to Ellison's house for a marijuana and ecstasy drug deal on March 16 but never intended to pay the man.
"The trap was set," Gregor said to the jury. "They were going to take his money ... take his drugs."
But defense attorney Steven Miller argued that prosecutors didn't have evidence of their claims and pointed out that there were three knives at the scene of the crime.
"That's three dudes and three knives," Miller told the jury. "This ambush theory doesn't hold water."
Miller also pointed out the inconsistencies of statements from Hyatte's girlfriend, Natoya Lee, such as her insisting that she heard a gunshot inside the home before Hyatte died.
Investigators never found a gun inside Ellison's home, and the autopsy showed Hyatte only was stabbed, authorities said.
Lee, who took the stand first for the state, told the jury that she went with her boyfriend to Sand Mountain to collect $160 from Ellison, whom they had nicknamed "Country." She said she didn't know Hyatte sold drugs.
After pulling up at the home off Gass Road at 6:30 p.m., Hyatte went inside and Lee said she immediately heard loud noises that sounded like a struggle. Several minutes later, Hyatte's hand appeared in the window as he waved for her to leave.
Lee told the jury she had yelled out the car window, "Hey, what's going on? I'm calling the police."
But under cross-examination, Lee said she didn't call 911 until she saw Hyatte open the front door and fall down at the front steps in a pool of blood.
In a hysterical voice, Lee told dispatchers that her boyfriend had been shot, according to a 911 tape played for the jury.
"Oh my God, he's not moving," she screamed into the phone. "He's not breathing."
Miller pointed out in cross-examination that the 911 call to dispatchers wasn't made until 7 p.m.
Prosecutors claim Ellison and Oglesby then left the house and ran. Several neighbors in the area testified they saw both men walking quickly through the neighborhood, with Oglesby holding his bloody arm, prosecutors said.
When the men reached the home of Bobbie Snow, whose son was Ellison's friend, they told Snow, "a big black guy was after them and they needed a ride," Snow testified in court.
She said she decided to give them a ride but got suspicious when their stories continued to change. After they jumped out the car, she said she dialed 911 to report the incident.
Testimony continues for the state today.
Contact staff writer Joy Lukachick at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6659.
Joy Lukachick Smith is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Since 2009, she's covered crime and court systems in North Georgia and rural Tennessee, landed an exclusive in-prison interview with a former cop convicted of killing his wife, exposed impropriety in an FBI-led, child-sex online sting and exposed corruption in government agencies. Earlier this year, Smith won the Malcolm Law Memorial Award for Investigative Reporting. She also won first place in ...