Trial begins in Kanku's shooting

Trial begins in Kanku's shooting

March 9th, 2011 by Todd South in News

A 20-year-old wanted to kill someone when he fired five times into a crowd of people at a gas station on Wilcox Boulevard, prosecutors say.

He succeeded and Jonathan Lawrence, a 42-year-old innocent bystander pumping gas, ended up dead, prosecutors told a Hamilton County Criminal Court jury on Tuesday.

Montez Davis, right, is on trial for the fatal shooting of a man who was pumping gas at the Kanku's on Wilcox Boulevard early last year. He and his attorney, Curtis Bowe, left, listen during jury selection Tuesday.

Montez Davis, right, is on trial for...

Montez Davis had no intention of killing Lawrence and had reacted to continued harassment and intimidation by people in the parking lot, his attorney, Curtis L. Bowe III, told the jury.

On Tuesday, the first day of his trial, Davis pleaded not guilty to the three charges against him - first-degree murder, reckless endangerment and unlawful weapons possession.

The maximum prison term is life in prison for murder and up to six years for each of the other two charges. The trial resumes this morning.

Minutes before jury selection began Tuesday morning, Bowe tried to enter a guilty plea to second-degree murder for his client.

Hamilton County Criminal Court Judge Barry Steelman asked Davis if he understood the plea and whether or not he'd had enough time to consider the consequences of such a plea.

Davis said he hadn't and Steelman did not accept the plea.

Police and prosecutors say that, on Jan. 9, 2010, as Davis drove through the parking lot of the Kanku's gas station at 3440 Wilcox Blvd. about 9:30 p.m., Anthony Russell threw a bottle that shattered the back window of Davis' rented white Jeep Patriot.

Davis kept driving about 30 yards, stopped, got out and started firing a .40-caliber Glock handgun at the crowd.

"And he fires, and he fires and he fires and he fires and he fires," said Assistant District Attorney Cameron Williams in his opening statement to the jury.

One of those bullets struck Lawrence in the throat, severing his carotid artery. He died almost immediately.

"(Lawrence) didn't even get his hands out of his pockets," Williams said.

Prosecutors and witnesses said Lawrence, a father of two and grandfather of one, often would shuffle between Kanku's and Midnite Oil, another gas station across Wilcox Boulevard. Though not working for either station, on cold nights Lawrence would pump gas for drivers who didn't want to get out of their cars, often getting a couple of dollars for the service, prosecutors said.

Davis admitted to police after the shooting that he had fired at Russell in the Kanku's parking lot after the man broke his back window.

Bowe filed motions Monday to not allow that statement in the trial, but Steelman denied the request.

During his opening statements Bowe told the jury that his client previously had been intimidated and harassed by some of the people in the parking lot, behavior that got so bad, it led to Davis dropping out of school.

"We are going to see Mr. Davis at 19, fearful, nervous," Bowe told the jury. "Excitement, fear and disorientation are a way of life for some."

Within minutes of the Kanku's shooting, prosecutors said Davis exchanged gunfire with others at his grandmother's house in the 1000 block of Tunnel Boulevard, leaving another person with a gunshot wound.

Manette Lawrence, younger sister to the victim, was one of the first family members to receive a call about her brother's death. She told the courtroom she rushed to Kanku's.

"How long did you stay there that night?" asked Executive Assistant District Attorney Neal Pinkston.

"Until they took him away," she replied, covering her face with her hand as her voice cracked and she began to cry.

Chattanooga police Sgt. Todd Royval, who heads the department's crime suppression unit, which deals with gangs, has said in previous Chattanooga Times Free Press stories that the Kanku's on Wilcox Boulevard sat between two gang territories.

A second fatal shooting at the Kanku's on Feb. 27, 2010, killed Terrance Etchison. Jamaal Byrd was charged in his death. The two shootings brought months of outcry regarding community violence and meetings between neighborhood leaders and owners of the gas station.

Davis' original bond was set at $1.03 million, but it later was lowered to $200,000. Davis is free on bond during his trial.