A key witness, who was previously charged with two counts of murder after the September 2018 double homicide of Michelle Johnson and Dward Kitchens, said she "went along" with what the shooter's instructions, citing a fear she would be shot.
Kimberly Hoff, 31, said she didn't contact authorities after the shooting because she had outstanding warrants charging her with bail jumping and probation violation from a previous offense in Galveston County. She said she worried that she would be jailed.
Proceedings, including cross examination of Hoff by the defense, will continue Wednesday at 9 a.m.
Look for a complete story about this day of trial in Wednesday's newspaper or on the Advocate's website later Tuesday night.
The trial of a man charged with a September 2018 double homicide in Victoria began with opening statements and witness testimony on Tuesday morning.
In his opening statement, Assistant District Attorney Jordan Fries said prosecutors would demonstrate that the defendant, Jesus Martinez, 32, of Victoria, committed the “quick and brutal” killings of Michelle Johnson and Dward Kitchens at a dilapidated home on North Jecker Street.
The prosecution plans to employ the eyewitness testimony of Kimberly Hoff, 31, of Yoakum, who prosecutors said accompanied Martinez to the home with the weapon used to kill the two in hand and admitted to police that she was in the adjacent room when the killings occurred, according to an unsealed warrant previously obtained by the Advocate.
Prosecutors will also call forward ballistic experts who will match shell casings found at the North Jecker Street home to a pistol found in Martinez’s possession when he was arrested for aggravated assault at a McDonald’s later that night and use a timeline based on police investigative work to put together “a coherent and corroborated narrative that leaves no doubt” about Martinez’s guilt, Fries said.
In her opening statement, defense attorney Merri Nichols said she and fellow defense attorney Keith Weiser would demonstrate that there is reasonable doubt about the shooter’s identity.
Jurors should consider the testimony of some of the witnesses the prosecution plans to call to the stand “a bit unreliable” because of their history of substance abuse, Nichols said.
Additionally, Hoff’s erratic behavior on the day of the murders and her criminal history make her an unreliable witness, Nichols said.
Hoff failed to report the murders until she and Martinez were simultaneously booked into the Victoria County Jail for separate incidents later that September evening, according to Nichols. Hoff was subsequently charged with aggravated robbery at a convenience store in Bay City in August.
The murders “could just as likely have been done by Kimberly Hoff,” Nichols said.
After opening statements concluded, the 12 jurors and one alternate, who include nine women and four men, listened intently to testimony from law enforcement officials who investigated the crime scene and a mother and son who lived two doors down from the house where the killings occurred.
Ryan Kelly, a former Victoria police officer, and Kelly Gibbs, a detective with the Victoria Police Department, described entering the crime scene and finding Johnson and Kitchens lying next to each other on the floor.
Johnson, 31, had been shot in her left eye, and Kitchens, 34, had been shot in the forehead, Gibbs said.
Beatrice Seevers, who lived two doors down from the North Jecker Street residence, which has since been demolished, testified that she heard multiple shots while taking a shower that evening and called the police about 20 to 30 minutes later. Prosecutors played the audio from that call in the courtroom on Monday.
Seevers said she was “heartbroken” when she learned that Kitchens had died. She considered Kitchens a friend and said he had protected her from an abusive husband.
Kitchens and Johnson were in a relationship at the time of the murders, Seevers said, and she considered Johnson “a really nice girl.”
After Seevers finished testifying, her son, Victor Gonzalez, testified that he had seen Hoff brandishing a black handgun about 11 a.m. or 12 p.m. on the day of the murders and said that she was accompanied by Martinez, who she introduced as “Mario.”
Gonzalez said he smoked meth with a group of people that included Gonzalez and Hoff that day and said that Hoff and Gonzalez spent much of the afternoon going back and forth between his mother’s home and the house where the killings happened, looking for drugs, arguing and “going at it like crazy.”
The court rested for lunch before Gonzalez’s testimony concluded.
Kitchens’ brother, Allen Kitchens, who lives in San Antonio, attended the trial on Tuesday. Allen Kitchens said his brother, who was eight years younger, played wide receiver at Texas A&M Kingsville and frequently helped his family with babysitting and chores.
Kitchens was working at a handyman in Victoria and had no children at the time he was killed, Allen Kitchens said. Though his brother struggled with substance abuse issues, he had been working to get himself clean.
Waiting more than two and a half years for the case to come to trial has been very difficult for Kitchens’ family, Allen Kitchens said, especially when Martinez was released from custody and placed on house arrest last October after the trail was delayed due to the unavailability of a state’s witness.
“To deal with that every day, and for them to release him on bond — he got to see another Thanksgiving, another Christmas, another New Year’s,” Kitchens said. “To me, that wasn’t fair.”
The trial had previously been delayed due to the pandemic, and Weiser, the defense attorney, requested another postponement because of concerns over new courtroom procedures mandated by the state to comply with COVID-19 guidelines.
The trial resumes Tuesday afternoon.