By Justin Cox
Killeen Daily Herald
BELTON – Guilty.
The first stage of the Richard Tabler capital murder trial came to a swift and succinct end Wednesday when the jury returned after one hour, 40 minutes of deliberation, rendering a guilty verdict against the Killeen man in the killing of Haitham Zayed, 28, and Mohamid-Amine Rahmouni, 25, in the early morning hours of Nov. 26, 2004.
The defense and the state will now prepare for the sentencing phase of the trial, which is scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. Monday at the Bell County Justice Complex.
Since the state is pursuing the death penalty in the case, the defense indicated it would launch a strong fight to remove it from consideration in sentencing.
Tabler is also charged in the Nov. 28, 2004, deaths of Tiffany Lorraine Dotson, 18, and Amanda Benefield, 16. If Tabler is sentenced to death next week, he will not be tried for this separate charge, the district attorney's office said. But if the jury decides to remove the death penalty from the sentence, the state could pursue the death penalty in the other case.
Also charged in the deaths is Timothy Doan Payne, 19, a former 4th Infantry Division soldier who, according to Tabler in his statement to police, videotaped him committing the murders. Payne is scheduled to go on trial for capital murder May 21.
Before Judge Martha Trudo of the 264th District Court on Wednesday morning read the charge sheet, a document that instructs the members of the jury on what to consider as they determine their verdict, the defense filed several motions in an attempt to alter the content of those instructions. Judge Trudo denied all the motions for a lesser charge of murder.
Defense attorney John Donahue requested that the charge indicate that Tabler was acting in self-defense because of the threat he said Rahmouni made on his family.
In his statement to police, in addition to confessing to the murders, Tabler said Rahmouni told him he could have Tabler's family killed for $10.
The prosecutor, Assistant District Attorney Paul McWilliams, said there was no self-defense involved in the self-defense claim because there was no immediate threat to Tabler's family since they weren't present at the time of the murders.
The prosecution opened the third day of the Tabler trial by entering its 68th and final exhibit into evidence, Tabler's phone records showing numerous calls to Rahmouni in the days prior to and the night of the murders.
When McWilliams finished presenting this last piece of evidence to the jury, the state rested.
Though the prosecution had just spent the past day and a half calling 20 witnesses to support its case, many of whom directly implicated Tabler as the killer, the defense chose not to call any witnesses and rested only moments after the prosecution.
Assistant District Attorney Leslie Williams then proceeded with the closing statements.
"You've heard a bunch of evidence, you've seen a lot of exhibits," McWilliams said. "Richard Tabler told you in his own words. (Reading from Tabler's statement) I shot the driver in the head ... I knew the driver was dead. Then I shot Amine. I walked around and could hear him moaning and I shot him again point blank.'"
"When you consider this," McWilliams said, holding up the photos of the bodies of the two dead men as they lay on the ground by their car, their blood coating the pavement. "You will know beyond any kind of reasonable doubt that Richard Lee Tabler killed these two men."
Defense attorney Buck Harris began his closing statement with sentiments of apology and sympathy to the families of the victims seated in the audience, observing the victims were men
"who passed away in the prime of their lives."
He attempted to convey the essence of the world in which the murders took place.
"You need to understand this world," Harris said. "It's a world of sex, drugs and stolen property. I'm trying to serve as a signpost so that justice will be done."
Harris also noted the other man being charged in the murders, Tim Payne. Harris said the prosecution had painted a portrait of events, and they painted Tabler so prominently that he was the only thing they wanted the jury to see.
"And who or what is Tim Payne?" Harris asked. "He's a person of interest, he may have even perpetrated part of it. The problem is we don't know."
McWilliams concluded the state's closing arguments before the jury left to deliberate.
"Our job is to prove that Richard Tabler committed this crime, and that's what we've done."
Holding the murder weapon up, McWilliams said. "What do we know about this gun? In his own words, he said he used it, and it has Amine's blood on it. It was so close to Amine when it fired that it was splattered (with his blood)."
McWilliams also addressed the "legally questionable" activities of Rahmouni and Zayed the night they were murdered, as well as a possible history of illegal involvement at Teazers. "There is nothing they did wrong that deserved to get them killed other than to trust that man!" McWilliams said in a slow, loud, commanding voice as he pointed at Tabler.
He closed by showing Tabler to be the orchestrator of the crimes.
"He's the center of attention wherever he goes. He's the one responsible for getting it done," McWilliams said. "He's the one who knows the drug dealers, and he's the one who decided the hour, minute and location where Amine and Haitham would die.
"You heard Kim Marmie, Who's got the power now, Amine?'" he said, quoting witness Kim Geray's account of the videotape.
Then, he looked at the jury, and said, "Now you have the power to see that justice has been done."
Contact Justin Cox at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (254) 501-7568