A Decatur police detective testified Wednesday that a murder suspect said he shot his “best friend” as the man walked away after robbing him, while a defense attorney said his paralyzed client was defending himself.
An assistant district attorney called the case, in which the victim was shot four times, one of murder, not self-defense.
At the end of a preliminary hearing Wednesday for Martavius Cortez Lee, Morgan County District Judge Charles Langham said he found probable cause to proceed with the case and ordered the defendant bound over to a grand jury.
Lee, 22, of 1023 Routon Drive S.W., Decatur, was charged in the Feb. 7 fatal shooting of Ghaith Hameed Vest, 22, at Vest's 349 Herring Road home. Lee, who is wheelchair bound, remains in Morgan County Jail with bail set at $101,300 on charges of murder, possession of a controlled substance and second-degree marijuana possession, a misdemeanor. No bond is set for failure to appear on a first-degree criminal mischief charge.
After the detective’s testimony, Lee’s attorney, Victor Revill of Birmingham, said Lee was robbed and attacked as he was trying to grab the console and steering wheel of the Chevrolet Tahoe in which he was sitting. Vest used so much force to try to drag Lee out of the vehicle that the button was ripped from his pants, Revill said.
Lee was defending himself, Revill said, and “he had the right to do so and in doing so, he’s immune from prosecution.”
“We have evidence that he was defending himself,” Revill said. “There was an actual robbery taking place. ... (Lee) knew this guy (Vest) and knew he had guns.
“This man is hanging on for his life. He’s paralyzed. What else could he do?”
Revill asked for the murder charge to be dismissed for lack of probable cause.
After the hearing and judge’s decision, Revill said his client, who was being assaulted and robbed, defended himself, “and he was justified in doing so under Alabama’s stand your ground law.”
But Assistant District Attorney Courtney Schellack said Lee had told police that he shot Vest as Vest was walking away from the Tahoe.
“The robbery was over,” Schellack said. Lee could have driven away, but instead he shot an unarmed Vest four times in the back, she said.
“This is a case of murder, not a case of self-defense,” she said.
The only testimony Wednesday came from Detective Joshua Daniell, who responded to the Herring Road residence just after 3 that afternoon and became the primary investigator.
Daniell said officers responding to the scene located Vest, who was on the driveway of the residence suffering from gunshot wounds, and Lee, who was sitting behind the steering wheel of the Tahoe. Lee was in possession of a firearm and was told to drop it and he did so, and he was detained at that point, Daniell said.
He said that when officers arrived, Lee claimed he was being robbed by Vest and he shot Vest.
Police provided medical assistance to Vest, who became unconscious, according to Daniell. Medical personnel who arrived at the scene pronounced Vest dead, he testified.
Daniell said he and Decatur police Detective Sean Mukaddam took Lee to an interview room at the Decatur Police Department and, before he was read his Miranda rights, Lee started talking about the incident: that Lee was robbed by Vest, Vest was walking away and Lee shot him.
Daniell said he advised Lee of his rights and Lee requested a lawyer, and the detective left the interview room.
Daniell testified that Lee later said he wanted to speak, saying he was robbed of his money by Vest and was tired of being “bullied” by him. Lee said he shot Vest as he walked away, but that he wasn’t trying to hurt him, only scare him.
According to Daniell’s testimony, Lee and Vest had argued, and Lee said Vest demanded money and started taking money out of his pockets. Vest was walking to his vehicle, which was parked on the other side of the driveway, away from Lee.
Daniell estimated that the distance between the two when Vest was shot was about 6 or 7 feet.
According to Daniell’s testimony, the preliminary autopsy report showed Vest suffered from four gunshot wounds: a grazing wound to the left thigh, one to the rear of the left thigh, one to the rear of the left rib cage and one to the back, which hit his spleen and aorta. He said that all appeared to have struck him from the back.
A Taurus revolver was recovered as well as five spent cartridge cases with one live one, Daniell said, and in a search of the Tahoe, police found 2.4 grams of marijuana and alprazolam pills. He said $300 was recovered from the driveway.
A loaded Rossi revolver was also found in the center console of the vehicle Vest was driving, Daniell said, but he said police determined that it wasn’t capable of being fired.
In a cross-examination by Revill, Daniell said Lee and Vest were friends, and Lee had a relationship with Vest’s family and would spend the night at the Vest home.
Asked what was found in a search of Vest’s vehicle, Daniell said two bags were found with 0.8 of a gram of heroin in one and 0.2 of a gram in the other, and about 0.3 of an ounce of methamphetamine.
When asked if Lee told him he acted in self-defense, Daniell said: “He mentioned that.”
Daniell also said Lee did call 911.
When Revill asked if Lee said he held onto the steering wheel and console as Vest was trying to pull him from the vehicle, Daniell said he recalled Lee mentioning that in the interview.
Asked if Lee said that he told Vest “no, stop” as Vest was trying to rob him, Daniell said, “correct.”
When Reville asked Daniell if he observed that the button of Lee’s pants was ripped off, Daniell said the button was missing.
On further questioning by Schellack, Daniell said that Lee called Vest “his best friend, his brother” and that he was trying to “shoot at his legs to scare him.”