BELTON — Testimony continued on Tuesday in a Harker Heights murder trial being heard in the 264th Judicial District Court of Judge Paul LePak.
Larry Leshawn Thomas, 20, has been in the Bell County Jail since his booking on Sept. 8, 2017, on bonds totaling $1,050,000, according to jail records. He is accused of shooting and killing 28-year-old Jose Antonio Hernandez after a confrontation and pursuit.
The state likely will conclude its case on Wednesday after calling 15 witnesses. Testimony started late Monday afternoon after the jury of eight women and four men was selected, said Assistant District Attorney Mike Waldman, lead prosecutor on the case.
Thomas, clad in a black suit and wearing glasses, listened as his attorney, Michael White, tried to convince the jury that the shooting on Sept. 5, 2017, was in self-defense.
Law enforcement witnesses, using a combination of surveillance video evidence and witness statements, said that a verbal confrontation happened between the two men in the Dollar General parking lot on Veteran’s Memorial Boulevard, during which Thomas lifted his shirt to display a handgun and Hernandez was in possession of a hatchet.
A witness who was in the car with Hernandez told police that his friend had the hatchet in his lap during the argument but did not raise it, said Heights police Lt. Ben Duiker, lead detective on the case.
During the confrontation in the Dollar General parking lot, Thomas lifted his shirt to reveal a pistol and said, “I got something for you,” and that Hernandez, with a hatchet in his lap, repeated the same words but also “was surprised” when he saw a handgun, according to testimony from two detectives on the case, Duiker and Detective Johnny Reams.
The witness quoted his friend as saying, “Whoa, you got a gun. I don’t have a gun. Why can’t we fight man to man,” Reams said, reading from his notes.
White on cross-examination repeatedly asked law enforcement witnesses about the location of the hatchet and the distance between the two vehicles during the pursuit, emphasizing that it was Hernandez, driving a Hummer, who was pursuing Thomas, in a Lincoln Navigator, after the argument.
“It’s clear that Hernandez was following Thomas,” said Heights police Detective Chris Hinckley.
White emphasized to the jury that Hernandez was acting aggressively and that his passenger, the witness who called 911, wanted him to stop the pursuit.
The crime scene covered at least two city blocks, starting at the Dollar General and ending near the intersection of North Amy Lane and Ball Road, where Hernandez was found on the ground near his SUV with a gunshot wound.
A bullet casing was found on Veteran’s Memorial Boulevard in front of the store’s driveway, two were found near the Ball Road and Amy Lane intersection, and another casing was located on the running board of the Navigator belonging to Thomas, according to Duiker’s testimony.
Thomas lived nearby, on North Ann Boulevard, which is where police located the white Navigator in the driveway and interviewed him for about 15 minutes on Sept. 6.
“He told us that he woke up at 7 p.m., smoked marijuana with some friends and played video games until 9 p.m.,” Duiker recalled.
Thomas told police that he had not left his residence during the time the shooting took place.
“You basically busted every alibi and story Larry Thomas told you?” Waldman asked Duiker, rhetorically. “And he didn’t mention anything about self-defense?”
“No, he told us he was not involved in the shooting but had heard about it,” Duiker said.
Video surveillance shows Thomas pulling into the Dollar General at 8:29 p.m., and then both vehicles leaving, bumper-to-bumper, at 8:32. The 911 call took place at 8:35 p.m., according to court testimony.
An autopsy was performed on Hernandez on Sept. 7.
Dr. Tracy Dyer the deputy chief medical examiner at the Dallas County Southwestern Institute of Forensic Sciences, said unequivocally that Hernandez was killed by a single gunshot wound to the face, which exited through the back of his neck. She said the bullet critically injured the carotid artery and the spinal cord.
Hernandez also had a possible grazing wound on his hand that could have been associated with the facial wound, Dyer said.
Toxicology results showed that Hernandez had ingested cocaine and marijuana in the hours or days before his death.
She was able to determine that the wound was “distant,” from at least 4 feet away.