Key witnesses testify in Warner Robins murder trial

chwright@macon.comOctober 23, 2012 

PERRY -- Houston County District Attorney George Hartwig told jurors Tuesday the case against a Warner Robins teenager charged with killing a Mexican food store owner is clear and simple.

But before Hartwig began presenting evidence, defense attorney Rodney Davis told jurors the case isn’t as clear as the prosecution says -- especially given that Hartwig must present a second crime to identify Jermontae Moss as the shooter.

Moss, 18, faces a string of charges -- including murder, armed robbery and possession of a firearm during a crime -- related to the September 2011 shooting of 43-year-old Jose Marin.

After opening statements from both sides, two key state witnesses testified. The first, Javier Moreno, was present when Marin was killed at Marin Mexican Food Store. The second, Neftali Corado, was allegedly shot by the same man the night before.

Moreno said he was in a supply truck when a young black man -- covering his face with a red bandana -- pointed a gun at his boss, Marin, and demanded money. The gunman wore black jogging pants, a white shirt and something on his head, Moreno testified.

Police quickly located Moss less than half a mile from the Bowling Drive store. Moss was wearing a white shirt beneath a striped hooded sweatshirt and black jogging pants with white striping on the sides. He was carrying a .45 caliber handgun, according to testimony.

“It looks like the guy, but I’m really not sure because the guy ... didn’t have nothing to cover his face or to cover his hair,” Moreno recalled telling police when they took him to identify Moss as the shooter.

However, Corado was certain Moss was the man who shot him Sept. 21, 2011, as he sat in his mobile home watching television the night before Marin was killed. When Hartwig asked him Tuesday to identify his shooter, Corado jabbed his finger toward Moss.

Corado’s testimony is being used under a Georgia law that allows a similar incident to be entered into evidence for a limited purpose. Judge George Nunn told jurors they must decide the crimes were committed by the same person and use the testimony only to connect the dots, as Moss is not on trial for Corado’s shooting.

“If the case was so strong, why would they be presenting a similar transaction in this case?” Davis asked of the jurors during opening statements.

A GBI forensic analyst testified the gun found on Moss on Sept. 22, 2011, was the same gun used to shoot both Marin and Corado. He was one of several law enforcement officers to testify, including arresting officer Sgt. Todd Rountree.

The Warner Robins police officer located Moss walking in the Holiday Mobile Home Park as he searched the Carl Vinson Parkway area where the suspect was said to have run after shooting Marin.

Davis asked few questions of the state’s witnesses. He asked each about finding a red bandana. None had.

Davis also attempted to poke holes in the validity of the forensic evidence that was found and absent from the case, and he confirmed with Rountree that the original suspect description did not include stripes on the pants or a sweatshirt.

Hartwig said he expects to finish with his witnesses before lunch Wednesday. He told jurors during his opening statements the case may be short, but it’s clear Moss killed Marin.

“This is the most serious case that we’ll see in this courtroom,” Hartwig said. “A life has been taken. A life has been lost. It doesn’t get more serious than that.”

To contact writer Christina M. Wright, call 256-9685.

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