More than four years ago, Makin Mansur had to make a 100-mile drive to Murfreesboro, Tenn., for Millennium Taxi Services. On the way, he called his work friend, Nathan Deere, and they swapped stories from the road, as usual.
It was April 18, 2012, around 3 p.m., and Deere, a driver of eight months, said he was getting ready to pay his daily $95 fee for leasing the cab, Mansur said. Every cabbie had to pay by 6 p.m., as usual, he said.
But first, Deere, 31, took a routine personal call that ferried him to 1643 Ocoee St. around 5:30 p.m.
And that, prosecutors said Tuesday, is where Christopher Padgett, then 18, got into Deere's cab, shot him in the back of the head, and robbed him. When officers arrived on scene, Deere was slumped over in his seat. The meter, still running, showed $5.90 for the current fare. And blood from his wound had pooled near the cup holders and spilled into the passenger's seat.
"That would be the last fare he ever took, the last taxi cab drive he ever made, and the last thing he ever did," Assistant District Attorney Jason Demastus said.
Kicking off the first day of Padgett's murder trial, prosecutors said cell tower data proved that the suspect, now 22, took off with Deere's phone and ditched it in a grassy lot one block away. Although prosecutors didn't show that data Tuesday, they called Joseph Montijo of the Chattanooga Police Department, who said an investigator got Deere's cell phone number from Millenium and tracked it down.
When they scrolled through the phone, Demastus said, a number stood out among Deere's last calls: 423-362-9913. When officers dialed it, he said, Padgett picked up. Padgett denied being the shooter, saying another friend had the phone between 5 and 6 p.m., records show. Still, he was arrested April 19, the day Deere died from his injuries.
One of Padgett's attorneys, Meredith Ziebold, argued police never finished their investigation into the shooting and got the wrong guy. Officers interrogated Padgett for two hours, decided his story didn't match up, and zeroed in on him, she said.
When prosecutors called Clayton Smith, an officer with the Chattanooga Police Department, Ziebold questioned his on-scene interviews.
"Do you remember there was someone who wouldn't give their name?" she asked.
"I don't recall," Smith said.
She walked over to the prosecutor's table, showed a document, then handed it to Smith. After the officer scanned it, Ziebold walked back to the podium.
"Does that refresh your recollection that somebody on the scene of a murder refused to give their name?" Ziebold asked.
"Yes ma'am," he said.
And Smith never made that person give their name? she asked.
"No ma'am," he said.
Prosecutors also called a neighbor who said a tall, skinny black man got out of the cab, looked over his shoulder, then sprinted in the same direction where investigators found Deere's phone. That description matched Padgett's complexion, prosecutors said.
After jurors heard from the county medical examiner, who detailed Deere's fatal injuries, Judge Tom Greenholtz dismissed them for the day. With jurors gone, Greenholtz asked Padgett, who was released from jail after making a $350,000 bond on Friday, how he planned to spend the evening.
"You're going to return home, right?" Greenholtz asked.
"I'm going to meet with my attorney and go straight home," Padgett replied.
The trial continues in Greenholtz's court today at 9 a.m.
Contact staff writer Zack Peterson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6347. Follow him on Twitter @zackpeterson918.