The charges against a Chattanooga man accused of shooting his girlfriend's 47-year-old stepfather to death on Halloween will go to a grand jury.
After listening to a two-and-a-half-hour preliminary hearing Tuesday in the case of Cordarius Robinson, Hamilton County Judge Gary Starnes came to his decision: "The facts from these witnesses seem to indicate cold-blooded murder.
"It clearly, in my opinion, meets a first-degree murder [standard]," he continued, before raising the bond on Robinson's criminal homicide charge from $25,000 to $150,000. "I understand that was disputed and will be disputed upstairs."
Robinson's attorney, Lloyd Levitt, said the family did not wish to comment on the outcome. Tuesday's witness testimony was scattered, he said, and no evidence identified Robinson as the shooter.
Prosecutors say Robinson, 24, fired multiple shots at his girlfriend's stepfather, Timothy Harris, after the couple got into a fight outside of Harris' house on Olive Street. In the minutes leading up to the gunfire, neighbors said, they saw a woman and a man sitting outside the house in a Jeep. One neighbor, Sean Anderson, said Tuesday he heard the woman screaming for help because someone was choking her. Then Harris came outside, cursing and screaming several times, "you shouldn't have brought him here," Anderson said.
Accounts about what happened next vary.
Kiana Varnell, Robinson's girlfriend at the time, testified she and Robinson drove to Olive Street after her sister called and said Harris had "put his hands" on their mother. When they arrived, Varnell asked her stepfather why he had hurt his wife of 25 years. Harris replied that everyone was lying, she said.
Then, as Robinson tried to guide her away, Harris rammed their Jeep as many as four times before trying to run them over, she said. Robinson jumped back into the passenger's seat while Varnell tried to crawl over him to the driver's side.
But Harris came over to the passenger's side and began hitting Robinson, she said. When Harris started "saying something about a gun," Varnell said, she ran to the front of the Jeep.
"I heard gunshots," she said.
She never saw who fired them, but got back in the Jeep with Robinson and left. Only in the vehicle did she see that Robinson had a gun, she said.
Neighbor Jennifer Simpson, 39, said she saw Harris scuffle with a man and a woman by the passenger door, but never heard Harris mention a gun. She couldn't tell who fired the weapon. She could only watch as her neighbor stood for a minute and then fell to the ground. Nobody checked on Harris, she said. The Jeep roared off.
Levitt, Robinson's attorney, said the state failed to present sufficient evidence or any identification of his client as the shooter. After calling the witnesses, prosecuter Lance Pope argued otherwise, saying Varnell's testimony placed Robinson in the passenger seat of the Jeep shortly after the shooting.
Pope pushed for a $150,000 bond on Robinson's criminal homicide charge and said there was enough probable cause for a first-degree murder charge.
Although Levitt countered that witness testimony was all over the board, Starnes said, "an abundance of circumstantial and direct evidence" pointed to Robinson shooting and killing Timothy Harris.
"All of these witnesses were very consistent with who was on the right side of the passenger's Jeep and who shot the victim," Starnes said. "There's more than enough evidence to bind it over to the grand jury."
"I'm happy with that for right now," Nathaniel Harris, who is Timothy Harris' brother, said of Tuesday's outcome.
If the Hamilton County grand jury, next scheduled to meet on Jan. 4, returns an indictment, then Robinson's case will continue to Criminal Court.
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