Fatal Bella Vita shooting case heads to grand jury

Fatal Bella Vita shooting case heads to grand jury

June 29th, 2016 by Zack Peterson in Local Regional News

Located at the intersection of 14th and Cowart Streets, the Bella Vita restaurant is photographed on Sunday, Mar. 13, 2016, in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Photo by John Rawlston /Times Free Press.

Andrew Wilson

Andrew Wilson

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

"Back it up," the prosecutor said. "Those 30 seconds, let's watch it again."

The judge, the lawyers, the witness and the defendant zeroed in on a black-and-white video in the corner of the courtroom. The screen showed 2 a.m. and 53 seconds. People moved in and out of Bella Vita, a Mediterranean restaurant in Chattanooga that moonlights as a weekend nightclub. And near the roadside, just past the firepit, two men were throwing punches at each other.

Moments later, the scene erupted. A body dropped. A security guard grabbed another man and rushed him across the street. Cars began rolling away, their brake lights glowing.

On Tuesday in Hamilton County General Sessions Court, prosecutors used that video to illustrate the fatal shooting of 40-year-old Johnny Sanders, who worked security at the Cowart Street venue on May 8.

After hearing the evidence, Judge David Bales sent the charges against the suspect in the case, Andrew Wilson, 31, to a grand jury. If Wilson is indicted on the charges of criminal homicide and possession of a firearm with intent to go armed, he will proceed to Criminal Court, where he also faces second-degree murder charges in the 2014 slaying of Desmond McClure.

In the Bella Vita case, prosecutor Lance Pope called two security guards, Jeff Hall and George Ivey, who worked for "J Hall Security," according to police. They both testified that Wilson fired a single gunshot at Sanders.

"And as a result of that gunshot," Pope asked, "do you know what happened?"

"Yeah," Hall replied. "He died."

Before the shooting, Ivey said he helped break up a fight inside Bella Vita. Then, per instructions, he went downstairs to assist the participants off the property. He saw Wilson, who was part of the "initial altercation," Sanders and a second man.

Wilson was worried about the second man, a cousin who had recently been hospitalized for a sickness, said Hall. The security guard, who also went outside, tried to keep the crowd at bay. But when Wilson started threatening him, Hall said, he sprayed him with pepper spray.

Ivey testified that Wilson squared up on him, too, looking for a fight.

"I said, 'It's not going to happen like you think it's going to happen,'" Ivey said. "'You need to leave.'"

And Wilson did — until the growing argument between Sanders and the cousin turned physical.

Ivey wasn't sure who instigated the fight, but one of the men fell to the ground. And that's when Wilson came back across the street, with a gun, and opened fire, he said.

According to police, Wilson said he operated out of self-defense, claiming Sanders had reached for his weapon during the fight.

"Did you ever see Johnny Sanders make a threatening use of his weapon?" Pope asked Ivey.

"No," he said.

"Based on your understanding of the altercation, was it to the level of pulling guns and shooting each other?" Pope asked.

"No," he said, adding that neither man mentioned gun violence.

Wilson's attorney, Donna Miller, honed in on the pandomonium surrounding the parking lot, as well as Sanders' history of aggression.

During her questioning, she referenced one portion of the video where Sanders was on the move.

"Did you see Johnny Sanders walk over to his vehicle?" she asked Ivey.

"No, I did not," he replied.

"So there was a lot of things going on?" she asked.

The guard agreed.

Wilson stood beside Miller throughout the hearing. He is being held in Hamilton County Jail on a $1 million bond for the murder charge and a $15,000 bond for possession of a firearm with intent to go armed.

He next is scheduled to appear in Criminal Court for his 2014 charges on July 27, records show.

Contact staff writer Zack Peterson at 423-757-6347 or zpeterson@timesfreepress.com. Follow on Twitter @zackpeterson918.


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