Houston & Peach

Jury deliberations expected Thursday in Warner Robins gas station slaying

'You don't come down from Atlanta with guns laying tarp out to torture people to let 'em walk away'

Excerpts from closing arguments from prosecution and defense attorneys in a Houston County trial of a suspected gang member charged with murder in a 2014 gas station slaying in WarnerRobins.
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Excerpts from closing arguments from prosecution and defense attorneys in a Houston County trial of a suspected gang member charged with murder in a 2014 gas station slaying in WarnerRobins.

Jury deliberations are expected to start Thursday morning in the case of a suspected gang member charged with murder in a Warner Robins gas station slaying three years ago.

Monnie Joseph Brabham IV, 32, was shot and killed minutes before noon on Jan. 23, 2014, at the pumps of Murphy USA near a busy super Wal-Mart on Booth Road in Warner Robins.

His silver 1996 Cadillac Fleetwood was stolen and later recovered by police, abandoned in a nearby neighborhood.

Michael Montreal Gooden, Clifton James Roberts, Tianna Danet Maynard and Deondray Darnell Yarn were indicted on charges of malice murder, felony murder, aggravated assault, armed robbery and violation of the Street Gang Terrorism and Prevention Act.

The four affiliated themselves with One Eight Trey, a sect of the Bloods gang. Brabham was not affiliated with a gang.

Yarn, 20, is the suspected gang member now on trial in Houston County before Superior Court Judge G.E. “Bo” Adams.

Gooden and Roberts, the key witnesses against Yarn, told jurors that Brabham was killed by mistake in a kidnapping gone wrong. Brabham’s lifelong friend, LaJerrious Barfield, had split with the gang and was the intended target.

Barfield was to be grabbed and taken to the Warner Robins home of Maynard. But Brabham was shot when he reached for the handle of Gooden’s shotgun and the shotgun discharged. Yarn fired at Barfield, who ran for his life but fell down as he fled. Both Gooden and Roberts testified they thought Barfield been hit, too, and was dead.

But neither the prosecution nor the defense bought the idea that what went down at the pumps in the middle of the day was a botched kidnapping, according to their closing arguments late Wednesday afternoon.

Gooden and Roberts’ account of what happened was a “sham” and Yarn was the “fall guy,” Russell Walker, Yarn’s attorney, told jurors.

“The downfall of the state’s case is going to be witness credibility,” Walker told jurors. “When they come in in shackles and orange jumpsuits, they’ve already lost credibility.”

Walker noted that the death penalty came off the table for Gooden and Roberts when they struck a deal with the prosecution of a recommended sentence of life with the possibility of parole in exchange for their truthful testimony.

Those sentences would run concurrent with lengthy sentences received earlier this year in connection with the 2014 gang-related kidnapping of a North Carolina prosecutor’s father.

“What would one might say in that position? What would one might say to save one’s life?” Walker asked jurors.

But Assistant District Attorney Greg Winters noted that both agreed to plead guilty to malice murder, which shows intent.

If Gooden were to make up a story, why not let Yarn take the blame for shooting Brabham instead of admitting that he was one with the shotgun in the store surveillance video? Winters asked jurors.

While it was true that no one was able to positively identify the two men on store surveillance video of the slaying, other testimony was in line with what Gooden and Roberts told authorities, Winters said.

A shell casing and a bullet found at the crime scene lined up with the account of Yarn allegedly firing at Barfield, Winters noted.

A woman who witnessed the shooting was parked in her vehicle at Zaxby’s for lunch facing the station. She could not identify the two men she saw jump out of a Chevy Tahoe and come up behind Brabham.

While other people around the shooting fled, she ran to the aid of Barfield. She didn’t realize that Brabham had been shot. She had helped Barfield up and over to Zaxby’s restaurant and returned to the gas station to tell arriving police.

“And that’s when I saw them putting a white sheet over the person,” she told jurors through tears Wednesday. “I didn’t know he was laying there or I would never have left him. I’m just so sorry I couldn’t help them both.”

Becky Purser: 478-256-9559, @BecPurser