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Carmisha Lay testifies before the jury is seated in the opening day of a murder trial for Stephen Lester on Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2015, in Judge Tom Greenholtz's courtroom in Hamilton County Criminal Court in Chattanooga. Lester is facing charges in the January 2013 shooting death of Edward Glenn, Jr.
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Stephen Lester enters Judge Tom Greenholtz's courtroom on Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2015, in Hamilton County Criminal Court in Chattanooga. Lester is facing multiple charges in the January 2013 shooting death of Edward Glenn, Jr.
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Carmisha Shade Lay
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Stephen Doantae Lester
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Edward Lebron Glenn, Jr.

The state's principal witness in the Hamilton County trial of a man accused of commanding his friend to fatally shoot a father of five during a robbery took the stand before jurors convened Wednesday morning.

Carmisha Lay, who pleaded guilty to second-degree murder earlier this week in exchange for witness testimony, told Judge Tom Greenholtz's court that 27-year-old Stephen Lester, her then-boyfriend, arranged the robbery at 2500 O'Rear St. that resulted in Edward Glenn Jr.'s death.

Prosecutors said during Tuesday's opening arguments that Lester, 27, told Lay and another friend to go "dance" for Glenn and his friends, with the end goal of robbing them, in January 2013.

Days later, between 3 a.m. and 4 a.m. on Jan. 10, Lay sent messages to Lester and another friend, Eric McReynolds, that Glenn was over at her home in her bed, prosecutors said.

When the men came to the house, Lester grabbed Lay by her neck and shoved her in the corner while McReynolds pistol-whipped Glenn, who was clothed only in a T-shirt and a sock, Lay testified. After they robbed Glenn, Lester commanded McReynolds to "shoot him, shoot him again," Lay said.

Lester, who faces charges of first-degree murder, felony murder, especially aggravated robbery and conspiracy to commit aggravated robbery, is pleading not guilty.

During Lay's testimony Wednesday, Lester bowed his head, avoiding direct eye contact as he scribbled on a legal pad. As she left the stand, Lay nodded briefly.

The hearing, which began around 8:30 a.m., focused on whether state prosecutors could use evidence to link Lester to the Athens Park Bloods, a gang Lester, Lay and McReynolds were all a part of. The jury was not present.

Executive Assistant District Attorney Lance Pope said "continual communication" on Jan. 10 in the form of text messages proved Lester orchestrated the robbery, recruited help and executed the crime. In other text messages, Pope said Lester referred to himself as "big homie," evidence of his ranking within the gang.

Citing a different gang-related case, Pope argued their affiliation with the Athens Park Bloods helps explain their behavior in the crime.

Pope also addressed Lay's inconsistent retelling of the events in the days after the shooting, saying she was never under oath at the time.

This time, Pope said, "Lay is bound by plea agreement to tell the truth."

Dan Ripper, Lester's attorney, countered that Lay and Lester were in "a romantic relationship that had nothing to do with the gang."

He emphasized that jurors cannot trust Lay's testimony because she has changed her story so many times.

First, she told police she was not involved in the crime, Ripper told jurors during opening arguments. Then she changed her story, claiming she was inside the O'Rear Street house but didn't know the men who came and robbed and killed Glenn.

Ripper argued the state cannot say Lester used a high gang ranking to orchestrate the crime because there's no proof such a ranking exists. He pointed to Lay, who testified today that, "I didn't know his [Lester's] rank."

After listening to Pope and Ripper, Greenholtz said he needed time to take everything under advisement.

At about 1 p.m., he ruled that state prosecutors could present evidence linking Lester to the Athens Park Bloods, as well as Lay's gang ranking, which she said is lower than Lester's.

Greenholtz said withholding this evidence could have left a void in the jury's understanding of the time, intent, context and motive.

Lay's full testimony is still expected. The trial continues today at 9:30 a.m. in Greenholtz's Hamilton County Criminal Court.

Contact Zack Peterson at zpeterson@timesfree press.com or 423-757-6347 with story ideas or tips. Follow @zackpeterson918.

Updated Dec. 9 at 10:12 p.m.

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