Testimony in the murder trial of Brandon Warren, the second of two young men accused in the strangulation and stabbing death of a Perry teen in the fall of 2016, began here Tuesday.
Warren, 20, faces murder and other charges in the slaying of 18-year-old Sam Poss.
Dakota White, 19, who led authorities to Poss’s body a few days after the October 15, 2016, slaying and was convicted last week, testified as the state's key witness against Warren.
In his opening statement to jurors in Houston County Superior Court, Warren’s lawyer, Jeff Grube, more than hinted that the defense aimed to portray White as the manipulative mastermind behind the killing.
Grube said White is out to “save his own hide,” and that prosecutors “are putting their hopes on a convicted and confessed killer. … If you expect Dakota White to tell the truth, folks, I don’t think it’s gonna happen.”
White, despite not fessing up immediately after Poss vanished, did, when the heat was on him, inform detectives that Poss was dead. He also, a few days after Poss disappeared, showed the cops where Poss’s body had been ditched in some woods off Lake Joy Road.
Grube meanwhile described his client as “a meek and mild, 20-year-old young’un.”
Grube, explaining how Warren knew White, said the two met in high school and that Warren had “become enamored with” White.
Prosecutors have said White asphyxiated Poss with a computer cord, and Warren stabbed Poss nine times while White was strangling Poss in a Dodge Charger parked in a driveway where White lived with his grandparents on Tucker Road, south and east of downtown in Perry.
White told investigators that he and Warren had a suicide pact, and they planned to kill themselves but not before seeing what it was like to kill someone else.
Authorities say Poss was lured out late on the night of Oct. 14, 2016, a Friday. Poss, a computer whiz, agreed to help White with a computer-game problem. But there was no problem. It was just a ruse to trick Poss into going with White and Warren, prosecutors contend.
Poss lived with his dad on the southeast side of Perry. White lived with his grandparents half a mile or so away.
At White’s trial last week, his attorneys didn’t mount much of a defense, largely conceding that White was guilty. White would, in fact, likely have entered a guilty plea, but doing so could have hamstrung much chance for appeal.
Also, prosecutors are seeking a life-without-parole sentence for White. He took the stand Tuesday afternoon to testify against Warren in a move that White and his lawyers hope will be viewed favorably by the judge at White’s sentencing.
White, dressed in a jailhouse jumpsuit, told prosecutor Greg Winters that he and Warren had talked of killing themselves after finding someone else to kill first.
After luring Poss outside that night and driving him to White’s grandparents’ house on Tucker Road, White, who said he was was in the back seat, reached over the seat in front of him and began choking Poss, who was in the front passenger seat. When the computer cord White said he was using to strangle Poss snapped, White said he cinched Poss’s neck in the crook of his arm and squeezed the life out of him for 20 minutes or so. White said Warren, who was in the driver’s seat, stabbed Poss at least three times.
White said he and Warren then dumped Poss’s body near Lake Joy, and White, unbeknownst to Warren, later tossed the knives they’d used off an overpass and into some woods.
The day’s most compelling testimony came when Grube cross-examined White.
Grube reminded White that he was testifying under a grant of immunity and suggested White was trying to save himself by implicating Warren.
White denied that, saying, “I’m just here to do what’s right, sir,” but later added that “nobody wants to go to prison for the rest of their life.”
White admitted that he had researched the criminal penalty before killing Poss and knew that he could be sent to prison forever.
“I did Google it,” White told Grube.
White said the plan to murder Poss “sort of came up” when he and Warren were talking the night of the slaying.
“I was very nervous,” White testified, recalling the moment he pounced on Poss from behind and strangled him.
The day after ditching Poss’s body, White said he told his mother that he had killed someone, and within four full days of Poss’s vanishing word of that admission had reached the police. White was arrested the night of Oct. 19, 2016, and he soon confessed to the killing.
So, Grube asked White, why’d you do it?
White could not fashion much of a reply.
“Um,” the convicted killer said, “I don’t really have an answer.”
Grube suggested Warren was afraid of White, and Warren had been led by White to participate in the attack.
White, though, said Warren “could have said ‘no’ anytime he wanted to.”
White had been on the stand for nearly 40 minutes when Grube ended his examination with a flourish. He turned his back to White and returned to the defense table.
“I’ve had about enough,” Grube said. “I have no more use for him, your honor.”
Testimony in the case was expected to resume Wednesday morning.