Police said that moments before Jeremy Trueitt killed Robert Cantrell, the suspect apparently took a bullet behind his left ear.
At a hearing Thursday in the shooting death of Mr. Cantrell, Mr. Trueitt stood alert just three weeks after the shooting on Green Shanty Road in Ooltewah, his ear visibly swollen where the bullet remains lodged in his head.
Mr. Trueitt's defense attorney now questions how authorities could charge his client with criminal homicide in what he calls an obvious case of self-defense.
"My guy got shot inside a car," attorney Rich Heinsman said after the hearing. "That tells you who got shot first, right?"
Mr. Heinsman, however, failed to persuade Hamilton County General Sessions Judge Bob Moon to lower Mr. Trueitt's $100,000 bond.
Instead, Judge Moon raised the bond to $500,000, making it likely that the defendant, whom authorities believe to be a high-level gang member, will remain in jail.
"Drugs, gangs and violence are a prescription for death every time," Judge Moon said after raising the bond.
Hamilton County Sheriff's Office detective Jeff Baker testified about Mr. Trueitt's admission at Erlanger hospital that he had possessed one of the guns found at the scene.
Mr. Baker also said that Mr. Trueitt, who previously was convicted of felony domestic assault, was heard in 2007 declaring himself to be "the king" of a local gang called the "Yorktown Posses."
According to the arrest affidavit, Mr. Trueitt, 21, and Mr. Cantrell, 24, were on their way to buy drugs on Feb. 20 when an altercation broke out. Mr. Trueitt got shot twice inside the car, while Mr. Cantrell was fatally shot outside the vehicle.
Mr. Trueitt claims there were two other people in the back seat of the car, one of whom tried to strangle him with a rope.
Detective Baker testified he is "unable to prove or disprove" the presence of other people.