BELTON — A jury of eight women and four men are set to deliberate on Thursday after hearing almost two days of testimony about a 2017 Harker Heights shooting death case.
Larry Leshawn Thomas, Jr., 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 in Harker Heights after a confrontation and pursuit.
The murder trial being is heard in the 264th Judicial District Court of Judge Paul LePak. Attorneys will have closing arguments and the court will read the charge on Thursday morning, said Assistant District Attorney Mike Waldman Wednesday evening.
The state called 15 witnesses during the trial before it rested its case on Wednesday. On Wednesday morning the last witness for the state, Jeffrey Kelly, an investigator with the Texas Department of Public Safety Crime Lab, testified that all four bullet casings found at the sprawling crime scene came from the same 9 mm weapon.
‘I was scared’
On Wednesday it was the defense’s turn to call witnesses, including Thomas testifying in his own defense for about an hour. Defense attorney Michael White also called two friends of Thomas who said they were in his Lincoln Navigator the night of Sept. 5, 2017, to go to Dollar General to get diapers for Thomas’ nephew.
Thomas admitted that he did shoot a pistol toward the Hummer that Hernandez was driving but stated that he was in fear for his own life and was not aiming toward Hernandez.
Law enforcement witnesses on Tuesday, 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 Lt. Ben Duiker, lead detective on the case, on Tuesday. Thomas said during his testimony that Hernandez did lift the hatchet, which Thomas thought was a hammer.
Thomas said he did not know Hernandez, but “had problems with his step-son.”
After parking his Hummer next to Thomas, “he opened the door and was yelling at me and we started going back and forth...I knew he wanted to fight,” Thomas told the jury. “I was scared. I thought he had a gun.”
Thomas said he fired into the air as a warning as he left the parking lot but Hernandez kept following him and he was fearful that he would follow him to his house where he lived with family members.
“I was trying to lose him, to get away from him,” Thomas said. “I didn’t know what his intentions were if he caught up to me.”
Thomas said he turned onto Ball Road and extinguished his lights before firing two to four shots toward Hernandez’s SUV on North Amy Lane then got back in his Navigator and drove home.
Hernandez was found on the ground near his Hummer.
After Thomas told his story, he faced a lengthy cross examination by Waldman, who delineated line by line every false statement given to police by Thomas over the course of two interviews. Not long after the shooting, Thomas told police someone else had fired the weapon.
“Truth or a lie?” Waldman said, repeating the phrase over and over.
“That’s a lie,” Thomas said to most questions. “I lied about everything...I didn’t think it would escalate like this.”
Waldman honed in on the self-defense theory posited by the defense.
“Now for the first time ever you’re saying self-defense...but you’re guilty all day long of felony murder,” he said.
“I didn’t murder that man in cold blood,” Thomas said in response.
“Tell me about when you were really scared and called 911,” Waldman said.
“I didn’t call 911,” Thomas said.
Waldman said that a law enforcement witness had testified the fatal shot came from 151 feet away.
“How dangerous was that hammer? How was it imminent from 151 feet away?” he asked.
“I wasn’t going to let him get that close to me,” Thomas said.