Demarcus Montrel Giddens is on trial for first-degree murder and attempted robbery with a firearm. His two co-defendants, Rodney Jones and Gertavious Canada, testified against him at trial Tuesday.
PANAMA CITY — Two members of a group of Alabama men involved in the fatal shooting of a 16-year-old Arnold High School student during an alleged marijuana robbery testified Tuesday that their friend was the trigger man.
Demarcus Montrel Giddens, 22, listened intently Tuesday during the first day of testimony in his trial. He was one of three Auburn, Alabama, men — including Rodney Jarquez Jones, 18, and Gertavious Montrez Canada, 24 — arrested after the Aug. 20, 2017, shooting in the parking lot of the CVS, 7112 U.S. 98, left 16-year-old Jason Ian Price dead. As each of his friends charged in connection with the case have accepted plea agreements in exchange for their testimony, Giddens is on trial this week on charges of attempted robbery with a firearm and first-degree felony murder.
Giddens faces life in prison if convicted.
Prosecutor Bob Sombathy will have to prove to the jury that Giddens killed Price during the commission of the attempted armed robbery as defense attorney Kim Jewell attempts to guide jurors toward seeing that Giddens was not attempting a robbery and a “struggle” over the firearm preceded the shooting.
Sombathy began laying out the state’s case Tuesday that Giddens and his friends drove down from their home city with drugs and firearms, including the AK-74-style pistol used in the killing. Once they lured a target to the darkened CVS parking lot, Sombathy said, Giddens attempted to rob one teen when Price came to the aid of his friend and was shot and killed.
“As Ian Price gets out of the truck and runs toward his friend, (Giddens) turns around with an AK-47 and fires through the right side of his chest,” Sombathy told the jury. “The bullet goes all the way through him, through his heart. Ian Price then backs up and collapses.”
Sombathy prompted jurors to expect Giddens’ co-defendants to diminish their roles in the shooting and shade their stories in their favor. He asked the jury to withhold judgment of their testimony until seeing which parts the physical evidence corroborates.
Jewell told jurors to be leery of the accounts given by those involved and asked the jury to question the witness’ motives. She highlighted many inconsistencies of the co-defendants’ statements in her questioning throughout the day. Jewell agreed that jurors should pay attention to the physical evidence and also told them it would reveal the true events of the night.
“Physical evidence does not lie — it is what it is,” she said. “It has no agenda, it has no nothing. … So pay attention to where things are located, especially on the scene itself.”
Jewell reminded the jury that Giddens is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. She asked jurors to “keep an open mind” while listening to the evidence and indicated that Giddens could testify after the state closes its case.
In court, Sombathy began working through investigators in the case and members from groups on each side of the shooting took the stand. As one of the key witnesses before and after the shooting, Jones told the jury that his group had driven down from Alabama that day and had been taking Xanax without a plan or a place to stay. As he walked with his group late that night to meet the other side for a marijuana deal, Jones said Giddens made clear his intention.
“He was like ‘aye, little bro, I want to rob them,’ ” Jones said. “All of us were walking together … I told him that’s on you.”
Jones told jurors they waited about 20 minutes before the other group arrived with the marijuana. He said he was looking down, weighing out portions at the moment gunfire rang out. But as they fled afterward, Jones said that he asked Giddens why he decided to shoot Price.
“He looked at me and said f*** that n*****,” Jones said. “I told him he was tripping.”
Jewell pointed out that Jones’ story had evolved over time, and he originally had told investigators that a struggle over the AK-47 led to the shooting. She attempted point out the inconsistencies in Jones’ statements and the terms of his plea agreement in an attempt to discredit the testimony.
Canada also testified to being at the drug deal but not seeing the shooting. He told jurors that he did watch as the marijuana deal began to go bad when Giddens pulled a gun from his bag and demanded the marijuana.
“Everybody was talking at once … and he was like ‘give the s*** up,’ ” Canada told the jury. “As soon as I heard that gun cock, I ran because I was scared.”
Canada said seconds later he heard the single shot as he ran away. He was arrested a short time later in a nearby apartment complex.
On the other side of the shooting, prosecutors called to the stand, 18-year-old Jon Pyle, who had received the call from a friend about a marijuana deal and asked Price to drive him. When they arrived to meet the friend, he was accompanied by a group of strangers. Pyle decided to proceed with the sale and left Price in his truck to sit on a curb and begin weighing out an ounce of marijuana when Giddens stood and pointed at gun at him, Pyle said.
“He said give me everything you have,” Pyle told the jury. “I said no, and he cocked the gun; and I felt a bullet hit my face. He said ‘you think this is a joke.’ ”
When Price got out of the truck and was within about 8 feet, Giddens raised the AK-47 pistol and fired a single shot, Pyle said.
After the shooting, everyone scattered except for Pyle. He stayed behind and called 911 as his friend drew his last breath. A single spent casing lay nearby in the parking lot.
Law enforcement officials tracked Giddens and Jones to a nearby hotel. They had changed clothes and were awaiting a ride back to Alabama from Jones’ mother.
Jones is expected to receive 20 years in prison for his role. Canada only recently accepted the state’s plea agreement to testify in exchange for four years in prison.