A Hamilton County judge on Tuesday sent a 20-year-old's charge that he killed a UTC student to a grand jury after hearing a confession he gave to police.
Chattanooga prosecutors, who are seeking criminal homicide and especially aggravated robbery charges against D'Marcus White in the Feb. 19 death of 24-year-old Mohammad Sharifi, argued that White's confession showed "overwhelming" proof that he committed the crimes.
"Here the defendant has told us where the crime occurred, he's told us what kind of weapon he used, he referenced the color of the car, the detectives verified that. There's been lots of corroboration. I would say the proof is overwhelming and the likelihood of conviction is high," Assistant District Attorney Colin Campbell said to Judge Clarence Shattuck.
Shattuck, who only had to find probable cause that a crime occurred and that White likely committed it, agreed prosecutors had met their threshold of proof. He sent both charges to the grand jury, kept White's bond at $750,000 and ordered that he also serve 11 months and 29 days on an old assault charge for which he received probation. If a grand jury indicts White, his case will continue in Criminal Court and attorneys will move toward a trial, settlement or dismissal.
White's public defender, Jay Perry, didn't contest the state's evidence Tuesday but instead questioned the state's witness, Chattanooga police investigator James Goehring, on how police tracked White down and how many interviews he gave.
Goehring testified that he scanned Sharifi's phone and found a string of messages on Facebook's Marketplace between him and White. According to Tuesday's testimony, White wanted to purchase Sharifi's Xbox and instructed him to meet him at the Hixson Pike apartment.
Once Sharifi arrived, he told Goehring during the interview, they talked briefly. Then White said he pulled a gun and told Sharifi to give him the game. When Sharifi didn't and started running toward his vehicle, White said he shot him in the shoulder. Sharifi running is "what made me shoot him," he told the detective in the interview.
At the station, White first told police he didn't want to talk, Goehring said. As he waited in another room in the service center on Amnicola Highway, White changed his mind, spoke to Goehring and was charged.
"Why was he waiting there [after the first interview?]" Perry asked.
"I was waiting to hear from the [district attorney's] office to see if we could charge based on what we had at that point," Goehring said. At that point, the state had the Facebook messages between the two of them.
Tuesday was an emotional day for all parties.
On one side of the courtroom sat Sharifi's relatives, including his fiancée, Sara Baluch, who visited his gravesite in Nashville on Sunday, the day after they were supposed to marry. They remembered Sharifi's generosity, calmness and adventurous spirit. They remembered how all of his friends gathered around the time of the funeral to share memories about how loved he was.
"We saw the confession video and it was one of the hardest things to see," said Baluch, 22, in a Facebook statement after court. "My only response is that this is only one of the thousands of senseless crimes that happen around the world every day."
On the other side of the courtroom sat White's family members, who had not seen their son in person since his arrest.
Kisha White, 41, speaks to her son these days through a telephone or a video screen into the Hamilton County Jail. She remembered Tuesday the second of three children she raised alone, the one who was good and who played football and basketball and skateboarded. She said he began taking computer-related courses at Chattanooga State Community College before the shooting and would have been her first child to graduate from college.
"He was living with me, and he went to school in the morning and worked at Arby's at night," she said.
Now, she said, she cries every night.
"I hate the situation. I pray for [Sharifi's family]. They lost their child. My heart goes out to them."
Contact staff writer Zack Peterson at email@example.com or 423-757-6347. Follow him on Twitter @zackpeterson918.