Co-defendant testifies he feared for life

Sonny Long

Aug. 14, 2013 at 3:14 a.m.
Updated Aug. 15, 2013 at 3:15 a.m.

A seven-man, five-woman jury could decide Thursday if two Victoria men are guilty of capital murder in the April 2012 death of another man.

Dedrick Bonner and Donnell Dilworth are charged with capital murder for the shooting death of Jerry Paul James on April 24, 2012. They are also charged with aggravated assault for shooting James' fiance in the lower left leg.

Closing arguments are set to begin at 9 a.m. Thursday. After that, the jury will determine if the men are guilty or not guilty.

The defense rested its case Wednesday after Bonner testified on his own behalf.

Bonner said from the stand he did not go to Regency Studio Apartments intending to shoot James but feared for his life when James came at him brandishing two knives.

Bonner said he was shocked, scared and confused.

"He had murder on his mind. He was going to kill me," Bonner, 20, testified during questioning by his attorney, Jerry Clark. "I was zoned out. I didn't take my time and aim; I just started squeezing. If I had turned around and ran, he would have caught me, and I would have got stabbed."

Bonner said he and Dilworth had been at the apartments earlier, and he thought Dilworth and James had settled a disagreement.

"That was squashed, and then James called and said to come back; he wanted to fight Dilworth," Bonner said. "He came running out of his apartment toward Donnell at first, and Dilworth took off. Then he started coming toward me. He didn't come out talking; he didn't come out walking. He came out running with knives."

Bonner testified that Dilworth did not have a weapon and did not know that he had the .45 caliber handgun.

Clark, referring to testimony from earlier in the trial, asked Bonner why he cried when he got back in the car to leave the scene.

"Because of the way the situation played out," said Bonner. "It wasn't supposed to happen like this. I've never killed anybody in my life.

"I was messed up about it. I felt bad about it. I was cool with Jerry."

Asked why he fled to San Antonio the day after the shooting, Bonner said, "I panicked. I had just killed somebody."

Testimony earlier in the trial indicated Dilworth was upset with James because he thought James had snitched about a robbery Dilworth and Bonner had pulled in the apartment complex. Earlier testimony also indicated that James called both men "fake" Blood gang members.

Asked about being in a gang by his attorney, Bonner said he was affiliated with but never initiated into a gang.

Victoria County First Assistant Criminal District Attorney Eli Garza cross-examined Bonner.

"How many times did you shoot before Mr. James went down?" Garza asked.

"A lot," said Bonner, who also admitted shooting and wounding Allaceia Stephney when he thought she was coming at him with a stick she was carrying.

"I thought she was going to hit me with the stick because I was shooting at her baby daddy," Bonner testified.

Garza and Bonner sparred on whether James was coming at Bonner or not.

Garza showed Bonner a photograph of James with the fatal gunshot wound on the side of his forehead.

"Is it possible that when you shot this man, he was turning around and heading back to his apartment?" Garza asked.

Bonner stuck to his story that James was charging him, knives in hands.

"Did you keep shooting after he fell?" Garza asked.

"Yes, sir," Bonner responded.

The first witness Wednesday was Tony Ray White, who also lived in the apartment complex. White had been scheduled to testify Monday but did not show up for court and was picked up Monday night by district attorney's investigator Danny Villarreal.

White said he had heard about an impending fight between Dilworth and James. He was going to video record it with his cellphone.

White, an admitted member of the Piru 59 Bounty Hunters sect of the Bloods gang, said he saw James come out of his apartment with knives in his hand.

"They ran, and James came after them," White testified. "After that, I heard gunshots."

Villarreal, who has several years of experience investigating gang activity and identifying gang indicators, said he would classify Bonner as a confirmed gang member and Dilworth as a suspected gang member.

Both men have tattoos representing their affiliation with the Bloods, Villarreal asserted. Bonner has a CK (Crips Killer) on his arm and Dilworth a five-pointed star on his chest.

In a rare light moment in the trial, Dilworth's attorney Lee Lewis, raised his pant leg, lowered his sock and showed Villarreal a five-pointed star tattoo on his leg.

"Am I a Blood?" Lewis asked the investigator.

"No, you're an attorney," Villarreal answered.

District Judge Robert C. Cheshire is presiding over the trial.

If found guilty of capital murder, the men face life in prison. The state did not seek the death penalty.



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