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Murder trial begins; defense says witnesses not credible

Ben Hillyer | The Natchez Democrat — Natchez Lawyer Kevin Colbert confers with his client James C. Luster during the first day of the murder trial in which Luster is the accused of killing Carlos Wright on March 6, 2012.

NATCHEZ — While two men reportedly with James C. Luster when he allegedly murdered Carlos “Mo” Wright in March 2012 pointed to Luster as the killer during their testimony in the first day of Luster’s trial Tuesday, the defense spent its time chipping away at the credibility of those two men.

Frederick Hunt Jr., 19, 381 Morgantown Road, and Gerald K. Davis, 19, 11 Fifth St., both testified they saw Luster, 21, 551 W. Stiers Lane, gun down Wright outside of Wright’s Scotts Lane residence at approximately 11 p.m. on March 6, 2012.

The jury heard testimony from Hunt, Davis and several other witnesses Tuesday in Circuit Court Judge Lillie Blackmon Sanders’ court. The trial was scheduled to start Monday but was postponed because not enough jurors were present for jury selection.

Hunt and Davis were also charged with murder in connection with the shooting. Davis pleaded guilty to manslaughter last week, and Hunt said Tuesday on the stand that he was testifying against Luster so he could plead to a lesser charge.

Assistant District Attorney David Hall pointed out that no deal has been made between the state and Hunt for a lesser charge.

Hunt and Davis testified that they were playing dice on Fifth Street the night of the murder when Luster showed up.

Prior to going to Fifth Street, Luster’s friends Alexis Williams and Ethel Williams testified that Luster and his cousin Casey Campbell were at Ethel’s house in Vidalia. Alexis said Luster asked to borrow her Chevrolet Malibu to go to Natchez.

Hunt, who said he did not know Luster that well, said he got in the car with Luster because he wanted to buy marijuana. Davis said Luster told him that he wanted to rob someone.

Hunt and Davis said before leaving Fifth Street, Luster picked up a .40 caliber handgun that belonged to another individual and took it with him.

When the men got to Wright’s house, Luster reportedly knocked on the door, Wright came outside, the two men argued, and Luster shot Wright.

Hunt and Davis both said they saw Luster shoot Wright multiple times. When the shots rang out, Hunt said he got out of the car and ran up and down the street.

Davis said he heard Wright say his landlord lived next door, and then Wright attempted to run away.

Luster came back to the car, Davis said, made him get out and told him to shoot Wright.

“(Luster) said he wasn’t dead, and he had seen our faces,” Davis said. “He said if I didn’t shoot (Wright), he was going to kill me.”

Davis said he then shot Wright twice in the buttocks with a .38 caliber handgun he said he carried with him when he left Fifth Street that night. Davis said he did not know if Wright was dead before he shot him.

State Medical Examiner Dr. Mark LeVaughn provided photographs depicting the multiple gunshot wounds from which Wright died. LeVaughn said he recovered four projectiles from Wright’s body and submitted them to the Mississippi Crime Laboratory for testing.

Carl Fullilove with the Mississippi Crime Laboratory said he identified two of the bullets as .38 caliber and two of them as .40 caliber.

Davis said after shooting Wright, he threw his gun in a bayou on West Stiers Lane, and he and Hunt ran to Alabama Street, where both men said Luster saw them and picked them up.

West Stiers Lane resident David Ross testified that he saw two men running in his yard and alerted police.

NPD officer Elvis Prater testified that he was en route to Ross’ house when he was flagged down by a friend of Wright’s who said Wright had been shot.

The friend had apparently tried to put Wright in his car to take him to the hospital, but Wright was dead, Prater said.

Davis and Hunt both said that Luster instructed them when he picked them up on Alabama Street not to tell anyone what happened or he would kill them.

Luster’s lawyer, Kevin Colbert, asked Davis if it made very much sense to get in the car with someone he hardly knew that had just killed someone.

Colbert asked Hunt and Davis if they were in the Notorious 104 street gang. Hunt said he was not, but Davis said the two were. Davis and Hunt showed the jury matching red star tattoos that Davis said were gang-related.

Hunt and Davis testified that they did not know Wright.

Wright’s mother, Anna Wright, testified that Luster and Wright had known each other for years and were friends. She said Carlos had been dating Luster’s sister.

Colbert maintained throughout arguments and witness testimony that Hunt and Davis were liars that were attempting to blame Wright’s murder on Luster.

Davis and Hunt said Luster dropped them back off at Fifth Street after the shooting then left.

Alexis said Luster came back to Ethel’s house in Vidalia in her car sometime after midnight. Alexis said Luster jumped out of the car, and she and Campbell asked him what was wrong.

“He said ‘I killed a boy named Mo,’” she said.

Alexis said she thought Luster was joking because she did not understand why he would tell her that if he had really killed Wright.

The next day, Alexis and Ethel said, Luster asked them to take him to the Natchez Police Department because the police were looking for him.

Luster’s friend Alexis said Luster asked her to write a statement saying he never left Ethel’s house the night of the murder, and Alexis said she did make such a statement.

But Colbert said that is not the story she told Natchez Detective Otis Mazique when he called Alexis approximately two weeks later to interview her again.

When Colbert asked Alexis why she lied to police in the first place, she said she was afraid for her life. Davis and Hunt gave the same reason for not going to police.

Colbert asked Alexis why she finally told Mazique the truth and if she just told him what he wanted to hear.

“(Mazique) told me that I was going to be in big, big trouble for (Luster) using my car to go do a murder,” she said.

District Attorney Ronnie Harper contended that Mazique wanted to hear the truth, and when asked by Harper, Alexis reiterated that her second statement to Mazique was the truth.

The defense and prosecution are expected to call more witnesses today, and court will resume at 9 a.m.