Jury is split in murder trial
By Caitlin Davis, Senior Staff Writer
Apr 29, 2014, 13:38
HOPEWELL — The two-day murder trial of Andre Mason, who was charged with killing Morris Flowers Jr. and shooting Lamonta Ellis, ended with a mistrial after the jury could not reach a unanimous verdict following four hours of deliberation.
On Dec. 3, 2012, around 10:35 p.m., two men were shot in the 1500 block of Piper Square Drive, in the Piper Square public housing complex. One victim, Morris D. Flowers Jr., 46, died from his wounds. A second victim, Lamonta Ellis, 30, from Spring Grove, was also shot and was flown to Virginia Commonwealth Medical Center. He has since recovered from his injuries.
At the time, police said two or possibly three males dressed in all black wearing black masks opened fired on the victims in the breezeway between apartments. They left the scene on foot towards the back gate of Piper Square towards Old Iron Court. A vehicle was possibly parked just outside the gate on Old Iron Court.
The majority of the witnesses called by the Commonwealth Attorney’s Office were currently in jail, awaiting sentencing or trial, with many facing several years behind bars. Though many were convicted felons, each told the defense and the prosecution how Mason told them in jail about his crime on that night in Hopewell.
Jamar Hill, who is currently facing several felony charges in Hopewell Circuit Court and has been convicted on several felonies in the past in Hopewell and in Colonial Heights, is looking at a suspended sentence of 163 years. Though admitting to his crimes, and not being able to admit to all the felonies, Hill was adamant of the interaction with Mason in jail in January of last year.
“I pushed up on him and told him it was messed up what he did,” Hill said. “He said it wasn’t supposed to go down like that.”
Hill said that on that day in jail, Mason told him that Flowers wasn’t supposed to die.
With the large sentence facing Hill when it is his turn in court, defense attorney Charles Cosby Jr. questioned his motives and asked if he was receiving any promises from the Commonwealth for appearing in court testifying against Mason, to which Hill replied he hoped the information “would help.”
Joseph Giles, also in jail, was another witness for the prosecution. He told the court that he knew Mason from “the streets” and the two had known each other for three years. Giles recalled a day in December of 2013 when he saw Mason in jail. Giles asked Mason if he was the one who shot Flowers, to which Mason said “Yes but I’m not worried about it. I had a mask on.”
Giles, like Hill, is also facing a large prison sentence for his crimes. He is facing a 23 year, 10 month suspended sentence on several charges.
When questioned by defense, he said the reason he turned over the information to the Commonwealth was because he had known the Flowers family for quite a number of years.
“Did you think there might be some expectation that might benefit you a little bit,” Cosby questioned, to which Giles said a simple, “Yes.”
Marquee Wooden, another witness for the prosecution who was also in jail, recalled a conversation he and Mason had while both in Riverside.
In June of 2007, Wooden was charged with a homicide that had occurred in the city. He was charged with use of a firearm in the commission of a felony and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. During the time frame of May and July of 2008, the charges against Wooden were dropped due to lack of witness corporation and insufficient evidence.
He said on that particular day, Mason came up to his cell and asked, “Weren’t you locked up for murder?” Wooden said the reason that Mason was questioning him was because he wanted to know how to “beat” the charge.
When Wooden began to further question Mason about his inquiry, Mason began to confess his crime to Wooden, saying “I shot Monte and killed ‘Slim.’ It wasn’t meant for Slim it was meant for Monte.”
Mason also laid out for Wooden the details of the setup of that night in December. He told Wooden that Monte’s cousin told Mason that Monte wanted to rob him. That night, Mason drove his truck to the back of Piper Square, in what is known as Hopewell Heights. He along with Chaz Brown, also charged in the incident, were notified by Lewis Walker about the whereabouts of Ellis, Wooden said.
Mason admitted to Wooden that Walker was paid in cocaine and $200 to help with set up on the night of the shooting. When the signal was given, Mason and Brown ran up on Ellis and began shooting, shooting twice and then turning around and firing four more times.
Just as Wooden questions Mason for more details about that night, Mason tells him “There’s too many ears listening. I’m going to holler at you later.”
When Cosby questioned Wooden about turning the information over and bringing up the validity of the conversation between the two men in jail, Wooden responded with “I did what I did. We all need help.”
Wooden is currently awaiting sentencing on several felony charges in the city for robbery. He is scheduled to be sentenced on June 10.
On the second day of the trial, the defense brought to the stand Mason’ girlfriend, Essence Pride. The two had been dating for six years. The two lived together in the city and on the night in question she said Mason was home all night with her. The two had gone to dinner and then came home to watch a movie around 9 p.m. Pride said the reason she recalled that night in December so well was because her friend had just had a baby.
When the commonwealth began to question Pride about other days on or about the Dec. 3 incident, Pride could not recall any details from any other day in particular but did however remember that night.
Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Elbert Mumphery IV said during his closing arguments that the incident was a “hit.” He brought up all the witnesses from jail who had conversations with Mason.
“He tells people he thinks are just like him,” Mumphery said. “... The defense seems to think it’s a calculated thing, that they are making this all up. Where’d they get the facts from. … They didn’t all tell you the same thing.”
Cosby said while this crime was terrible, it would be equally as terrible for the wrong person to go to jail.
“What an unholy group,” Cosby said of the witnesses for the prosecution. “The benefit for them is down the road. The pot of gold is down the road.”
He said all the men who testified against Mason were looking for a get out of jail free card. Cosby also said there were no fingerprints, DNA, footprints or ballistics evidence linking Mason to the crime.
Though several members of the Hopewell Police Department identified crime scene photos and presented shell casing from a 9 mm gun, there was no further evidence presented in the case.
“They don’t know what the truth is. They’re in jail,” Cosby said. “If they say they are doing the right thing, why are they expecting a benefit.”
In one last appearance before the jury, Mumphery again brought up the witnesses testimonies.
“You don’t expect to hear from angels about done deeds in hell,” he said. “The stories aren’t the same. They were locked up. Where would they get their information from. ... It’s human nature to act in their own self interest. We all do it.”
Shortly before 2 p.m. on Friday afternoon, the jury began deliberations on the case. After four hours, the jury appeared back in the courtroom before Judge Nathan Lee to admit they had come to a stalemate.
When Judge Lee asked if they just needed more time, the spokesperson for the jury said “I don’t believe we can come to a unanimous vote at this time.”
Judge Lee declared a mistrial, noting that he was in agreement that the jury would not benefit from more time on the clock. The case will go back to court again in June.