By Jon Schroeder
Killeen Daily Herald
LAMPASAS – Three days into the first of three impending trials associated with last July's alleged murder-for-hire plot, the first two key witnesses for the prosecution took the stand.
Regina Edwards, 39, testified in 27th District Court for most of the day on Wednesday. She strongly insinuated that Chaka Romain Johnson, on trial for capital murder, shot Hidi Gower to death July 4, 2007, outside the Kempner Veterans of Foreign Wars post.
But when asked directly if he was the shooter, she said, "Honestly, I don't know who did it."
According to her testimony, she was sexually involved with Donald Gower before his two marriages to Hidi Gower, and she was intimate with Johnson on July 1 and slept with him the night after the July 4 murder.
Edwards, called a "liar" Tuesday by defense attorney Eddie Shell, admitted to lying to investigators on Wednesday.
Edwards, once engaged to Donald Gower, was informed of the end of their relationship when he called her from Kansas. She was living in his house in Copperas Cove at the time. She said he told her he was married to Hidi Gower and asked her to move out. She remained friends with Gower and moved in with him after his divorce only months later. When he married Hidi again, she moved back out.
Edwards said she had heard Donald Gower talk about having his wife killed and advised him not to attempt it at her place of work – Alltel in Temple – because there are security cameras in corporate parking lots.
Her testimony also eliminated the last possible piece of physical evidence connecting Johnson to the shooting when she identified a different pair of sandals than those already in evidence as the ones he wore the night of the shooting. She admitted later that she couldn't name a single item of clothing worn by anyone involved on July 4.
Five people were arrested in connection with the slaying. Three, including Johnson, have been indicted. Donald Gower and John Robert Martinez will have more pretrial hearings after the Johnson case is decided. The case against Edwards was dropped, and Jeremiah "Mia" John Ellison, the final member of the presumed conspiracy, testified Wednesday but has not been cross-examined by the defense and has not been indicted.
The murder-for-hire plot was allegedly instigated by Donald Gower, who according to testimony offered $25,000 to Ellison, then to Martinez to shoot his wife. Martinez accepted his offer. Using Ellison as a go-between, Gower gave the keys to his wife's vehicle to Martinez.
With Edwards and her two children in his car, Gower met Ellison and Martinez at a 7-Eleven and gave Martinez $250 to buy a gun. When Martinez didn't act promptly enough, Gower offered Ellison $10,000 to kill his wife.
With a new plan to kill her at the Kempner VFW post put forward by Gower and relayed by Ellison, Martinez said he was in again and began searching for a getaway driver. Two days later, Hidi Gower was shot in the south parking lot of the Kempner VFW Post.
Her husband had sent her outside to his truck to get Benadryl to help clear a negative reaction to smoke, according to testimony in the last two days. She was found lying next to Donald Gower's truck with five gunshot wounds, one leg caught beneath her and barely breathing. Asked who killed her in her final moments, she raised one arm upward, according to eyewitness testimony.
But Johnson, not Martinez, has been named by co-conspirators as the triggerman.
Guided by questions from the prosecution, Ellison confessed to a role in the murder in the most detailed explanation of the crime and Johnson's involvement to date. The defense did not object once during his hourlong narrative.
Ellison said Johnson's involvement in the conspiracy began only days before the shooting. He described a four-man drive – along with Johnson, Martinez and another individual never charged – past the Kempner VFW the afternoon of July 4 and spoke about a plan he overheard to pick up Johnson after the shooting at a nearby intersection, where a neighbor testified that a man in a hoodie was acting suspiciously that night.
Ellison, in addition to acting as a go-between, admitted to providing clothing to Johnson the night of the murder, including K-Swiss shoes and a blue West Coast Choppers hoodie.
He was not at the VFW the evening of July 4, but he said in court that Johnson told him later that night, "It's done."
As the trial came to a close Wednesday, prosecutor Larry Allison asked Ellison if he was aware of any deal with the state to testify since Ellison has been charged but not indicted.
Ellison said no, and Allison asked, "Do you have an understanding of what your punishment will be?"
"No," he replied.
Ellison's attorney, Steven Blythe, sat in on his client's testimony but said afterward that it's uncertain whether Ellison will be indicted after his confession in court.
The trial will continue at 9 a.m. today with the defense's cross-examination of Ellison.
Contact Jon Schroeder at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7475.