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Bank robbery, shooting trial begins

NATCHEZ — With a lack of forensic evidence and no witnesses to positively identify a suspect, lawyers for the man accused of shooting a sheriff’s deputy and robbing a local bank in June 2011 say their client is a victim.

But District Attorney Ronnie Harper said Tuesday during the first day of the trial of Kendrick D. Smith, 23, 68-A Lagrange Road, that witness testimony and evidence points to Smith as the man who robbed United Mississippi Bank on U.S. 61 South and then shot Deputy Buddy Frank while fleeing.

Smith is charged with one count of armed robbery, three counts of aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer and one count of aggravated assault.

According to testimony and earlier police reports, a Kentucky Fried Chicken employee saw a man wearing a bandana lying in the bushes behind KFC, which is next to the bank, while the employee was taking out trash at approximately noon June 24, 2011.

The employee, Cartrell Stampley, testified Tuesday that he alerted his manager, who then notified three sheriff’s deputies who were eating lunch in KFC. Deputies Buddy Frank, Charles Harrigill and Billy Neely testified that they went to the back of the restaurant but could not find the man.

The deputies went outside and spotted a man wearing a bandana over his face running from UMB. The man fired at the deputies and struck Frank in the right leg. Frank and the other deputies testified that Frank returned fire and struck the suspect in the left shoulder.

According to testimony from two bank employees and a Natchez Ford employee who was robbed inside the bank, the suspect had come in the bank, fired a shot at the ceiling and demanded money.

The suspect then robbed the Natchez Ford employee at the bank counter and demanded money from teller. The teller testified that the suspect shot above her head, demanded money from the drive-through teller then shot above that teller’s head.

The suspect then reportedly fled the bank slipping on his way out and dropping money.

Neely testified that after Frank was shot, he took Frank’s weapon and pursued the suspect.

A mechanic at nearby Natchez Ford testified that the suspect shot at him at the back of the dealership’s service department then fled.

Witnesses identified the suspect as wearing a bandana over his face, a hat, shorts and yellow cleaning gloves.

All of those items and the gun reportedly used in the robbery and to shoot Frank were recovered by police behind a house on Woodville Drive near the scene of the crime.

Detective Felesha Fleming testified that a trail of blood indicated that someone had climbed the fence behind the house that separated the property from Plantation Manor Apartments.

Smith was found in a bayou near Plantation Manor Apartments bleeding from an apparent gunshot wound to the shoulder. Smith was not wearing a shirt, gloves, a bandana and had no weapon on him.

Smith’s attorney Carmen Brooks argues that none of the evidence proves that Smith was the robber or the man that shot Frank. Brooks said Smith was shot by the robber, who she said is still at large.

Throughout the course of the testimony, none of the witnesses could positively identify Smith as the bank robber or the man who shot Frank.

Police officers and deputies could only confirm that he was the man they found in the bayou behind Plantation Manor Apartments.

In questioning all of the witnesses, Brooks repeatedly circled back to the fact that none of the evidence was sent to the state crime lab for forensic testing. She argued that the gun, bandana, the bloody glove and the hat could not be tied to Smith because the police did no DNA or gunshot residue testing.

Detective Joe Belling, who is the evidence technician for NPD, said no conversation about sending the evidence for forensic testing happened.

Belling said that evidence was not sent to the state crime lab for testing based on the fact that the suspect was chased and apprehended shortly after the robbery and shooting happened.

Brooks argued, however, that the jury could not be certain that Smith was the suspect and not a victim because none of the blood found on the cleaning glove, near the crime scene and on money was tested for DNA.

Harper asked Metro Narcotics Commander David Lindsey, an officer at the retrieval of Smith from the bayou, who is generally found hiding near the scene of a crime.

“The suspect,” Lindsey replied.

Also entered into evidence by Harper were two pairs of shorts hospital staff took off Smith while treating him for a gunshot wound, as well as a shirt he wore that Belling said had a bullet hole in it and a pair of sneakers. Two $2 bills with what Belling said was blood stains on them were also entered into evidence. Police collected the $8,364 taken during the robbery for evidence. The money was returned to UMB five days after the robbery.

Belling also showed the jury a bullet or bullet fragment that was recovered from the UMB ceiling.

After the jury was dismissed, Brooks made a motion to suppress the testimony of Detective Otis Mazique regarding a reported oral confession to the bank robbery from Smith.

Brooks said that Smith was given Endocet, a combination of acetaminophen and oxycodone, as prescribed by a doctor during the interview with Mazique.

Smith testified that he was in an altered state of mind and does not recall confessing to the robbery.

Mazique said Smith did not appear to be under the influence of the medicine during interview.

Judge Forrest “Al” Johnson denied the motion, and Mazique will be allowed to testify about the reported confession when the trial resumes at 9 a.m. today.

Smith will not testify during the trial.

The jury is composed of nine black women, two white men and one black man.