An expressive witness, general disorder, and a circus-like atmosphere defined a preliminary hearing involving four men accused of the July murder of Tracy Calloway.
On July 21, Antonio Watkins, 25; Prandel Reid Jr., 27, Gary Cross, 23, and Jamichael Smith, 26, allegedly drove up to Mr. Calloway’s residence and began shooting. Calloway, who was located in a white car parked in the driveway, was shot multiple times, dying from his injuries a few hours later.
After waiting for almost two hours, all four men were finally transported from the county jail to Judge Lila Statom’s General Sessions courtroom. Immediately after all four were sworn in, each defendant quickly expressed their desire to waive their right to a preliminary hearing.
Prosecutors Cameron Williams and Andrew Coyle vehemently argued for the need for a preliminary hearing. The state prosecutors formally objected to the defendants’ waivers, and asked the judge to override the waivers.
The prosecution stressed the importance of getting recorded testimony from a present witness, one who had been allegedly threatened for his willingness to testify against the known gang members. Judge Statom decided the state had the burden of proof laid upon it to prove why a preliminary hearing was necessary. Because of this, prosecutor Williams called his witness to the stand and began the hearing-before-the-hearing.
The witness told the court they knew the four men since childhood. While he denied being a member of any gang, the witness freely admitted to being “affiliated” with multiple gangs. When asked about what “affiliated” meant, he said he knew and hung around members, but was not actually part of the gang.
The witness eventually gave the reason the prosecution desired to have the preliminary hearing. He told the judge his cousin told him other gang members had put a $40,000 bounty on his head, and he was thus forced to relocate from Chattanooga for his own safety. When attorneys Bill Speek and Hank Hill repeatedly questioned the witness about who was threatening him, or if they knew if the threats came from the defendants, the witness became increasingly agitated.
"I don’t know where the threats came from. No one can contact me,” said the witness. “You keep asking me the same dumb (expletive) over and over.”
Antonio Watkins’ attorney Amanda Dunn argued against the witnesses’ argument. She said there was no proof of the threat. Attorney Dunn also said the decision set a bad precedent for future cases. Would the state be able to force any defendant into an unwanted preliminary hearing if any witness claimed they felt threatened by someone on the street? In the end, judge Statom decided that there was probable cause for a preliminary hearing, and overrode the defendants’ waiver of the hearing.
During the actual preliminary hearing, the witness recounted the events of the day. According to the witness, he smoked a blunt of synthetic marijuana at 7 a.m., then he got a call from Jamichael Smith and was invited to Gary Cross’ house. Driving his girlfriend’s Kia, he went to the house and spent around an hour there. The group then went to the witness’ grandmother’s house, where the witness haggled over jewelry from an unnamed merchant. The trio then traipsed over to Smith’s house.
Afterward, they met up with the other two defendants, and went back to the witness’s grandmother’s house in a silver van. The witness got back in their silver Kia, and they all went “sliding.” After driving around Brainerd (with the witness following behind the van), the vehicle abruptly stopped in a neighborhood.
The stop was so sudden, the witness had to slam on the brakes and swerve around the van. As the wtiness was swerving around, he said he saw Reid Jr. and Smith get out of the van with guns. As the witness drove by, he heard gunfire. He sped down the street and stopped. After the gunshots ended, a bullet-ridden van stopped behind the Kia, and Smith and one other man got into the car.
The witness did not see either of the two other men, and drove the two passengers home. When the police interviewed him a few days later,District Attorney Neal Pinkston offered the witness immunity in exchange for testimony. Because the witness has multiple felonies and probation hanging over his head, he accepted this deal.
The preliminary hearing was full of loud arguments and drama. For instance, the witness became incensed when attorney Speek continually asked what he and the judge deemed to be the same question over and over.
“You can’t keep asking the same question, Mr. Speek,” said the judge when the attorney kept asking the witness about where guns were in the van. Attorney Speek also questioned the witness about his mental state during the incident, as the witness had freely admitted to getting high during the day. Lastly, the attorney continuously questioned the witness on his possible gang membership, an allegation the witness sarcastically denied.
“I’m a good person. A lot of people like me,” said the witness, “I’m affiliated with a gang, but I’m not in a gang.” Sarcastic comments drew the ire of several attorneys, including Hank Hill, who raised his voice multiple times during the proceedings. At one point, prosecutor Williams engaged in a heated argument over the forcefulness of attorney Hill’s questions.
“Mr. Williams and Mr. Hill, you are acting like children,” said the judge, “You are in a court of law, so please act like it.”
The normally-strict Judge Statom showed an unusual amount of patience during the hearing, at some points allowing the witness to yell and argue back with both her and the attorneys. Judge Statom even allowed the witness to utter profanities at one of the attorneys, offering only a mild-mannered rebuke rather than holding the witness in contempt of court.
An investigator on the case also testified. He showed a short video taken from a neighbor’s security camera. In it, the video corroborated the story told by the witness. He also said he found over 70 shells at or around the scene. When they found the van, then abandoned, the investigators were unable to find prints. He said it appeared the van had been wiped down.
After the testimony concluded, Judge Statom passed the case over the Grand Jury on murder charges against the four defendants.