By Ian Perrotta
The pre-trial examination for the five men accused of kidnapping and murdering Abreeya Brown and Ashley Conaway continued this week, but by the time The Review went to press on Thursday little more was known about the details of the crime.
What was evident, however, is that the trial will likely rely heavily on the testimonies of witnesses. Lawyers for the defense seemingly scrutinized each and every word spoken by witnesses for the prosecution, and after the first two-and-a-half days just four had taken the stand.
On Tuesday, the first witness testified that on the morning of Feb. 29, Brandon Cain and Brian Lee, the two central suspects in this murder exam, came to her house at approximately 1:50 a.m. and displayed behavior that would she would later recognize as possibly being related to the disappearance of Brown and Conaway.
Audrey Glenn, a self-described “friend-with-benefits” of Cain, said that after a conversation with Cain about the status of the pair’s relationship — during which Cain asked Glenn why they couldn’t be together and Glenn responded that it was because of Cain’s relationship with Conaway — Cain alluded to the fact Conaway was no longer in the picture.
“‘That’s not a problem anymore’,” Glenn quoted Cain as saying.
Glenn also testified that she saw mud on parts of Lee’s socks that “should have been covered by his shoes,” and that after she asked him about it he told her it was because he had to jump out of a window of the house of a woman he had met earlier that night, after the woman’s husband came home.
The second witness was Jasmin Richbow, a cousin of Abreeya Brown and the longtime on-again/off-again girlfriend of a cousin of suspect Reginald Brown (no relation to Abreeya), who testified that on the morning of Feb. 29 she was at her boyfriend’s house when Reginald Brown’s cousin Jeremy Brown, another suspect, showed up unexpectedly at about 1:15 a.m.
According to Richbow, Jeremy Brown said he was waiting for Reginald Brown,who arrived about an hour later dressed in a black jogging outfit and covered in mud. Richbow said that upon his arrival Reginald Brown flashed a stack of cash.
“‘The things a n**** do for money’,” Richbow quoted Reginald Brown as saying. She then said he instructed Jeremy Brown to go to the bathroom and clean a black semi-automatic handgun with bleach and to “get rid of the bullets.”
When Jeremy Brown returned from the bathroom, Richbow said he handed her a brown purse full of contents and told her she could have it. However, Reginald Brown took the purse back, which was allegedly seen on the side of the road by Richbow the next day.
The purse was later recognized by Richbow while she was looking at old photos of Abreeya Brown and Ashley Conaway. In one picture, she noticed Abreeya Brown carrying a purse identical to the one given to her by Jeremy Brown.
Richbow also testified that during that timeframe Miguel Rodriguez — the fifth and final suspect — showed up as well, wearing muddy shoes. She said Rodriguez was instructed by Reginald Brown to get gas (or something to that extent), and that while he was gone she heard Reginald Brown lament to Jeremy Brown that Rodriguez wanted too much compensation for whatever work he had done.
“‘This n**** want me to give him twenty-five hundred’,” Richbow quoted Reginald Brown as saying. “‘I’m not giving him twenty-five hundred. He didn’t do s***.’”
The prosecution’s third witness was Tristan Cash, a friend of Rodriguez’s who told prosecutors that on the night of Feb. 28, Rodriguez called him up and asked him for a ride to a house on “Riverdale or Riverview.”
After arriving at the location, Cash said Rodriguez left on foot shortly thereafter, returning momentarily with a bag in his hands. Cash was then told by Rodriguez to go to a K-Mart, from which Cash says Rodriguez returned carrying two long wooden objects Cash believed to be shovels. The pair then went back to the previous location where Rodriguez took the alleged shovels to the side of the house.
After leaving again, the pair went to another location before stopping at a gas station where Cash said Rodriguez purchased a red gas can and then filled it up. When they returned to the location at Riverdale/Riverview, another car — a Chrysler — was also there. Cash said that Rodriguez took the gas can inside and was there for about ten minutes, a period during which Cash noticed Jeremy Brown cleaning his own car with what appeared to be dishwashing detergent.
Wondering what was taking so long, Cash said he then went inside and saw Reginald Brown standing in his underwear in the living room, having what Cash characterized as a “tense” conversation with Rodriguez. Rodriguez then left with Cash, never mentioning anything that had happened that night.
Cash’s testimony ended with the story of a few days later, when he said that Jeremy and Reginald Brown showed up at his house threatening him and calling him a “snitch.”
After each witness for the prosecution testified, lawyers for the defense sought to poke holes in their stories and credibility. One-by-one each attorney questioned the legitimacy and authenticity of each witness, often trying to use the witnesses’ own words against them. Several times the defense attorneys repeated themselves and each other, so much so that it got to the point where 31st District Court Judge Paul Paruk had enough.
“I’m actually getting frustrated by continually having to grant the prosecutor’s request for objection,” he said. “It’s wasting everyone’s time.”
By then it was late in the second day of examinations and just three witnesses had been heard. With little time left in the afternoon, no more witnesses were called and the hearing was adjourned until the next day, when it was scheduled for an early start. The examination was still in session on Thursday when The Review went to press, with just one more witness testifying before court recessed for lunch.
Other than witness testimony, the only major developments in the trial were the pretrial motions filed by both the prosecution and defense and subsequently accepted by Judge Paruk. So as not to taint any testimony, District Attorney Molly Kettler filed a motion to sequester witnesses, meaning that witnesses testifying in the trial were unable to watch it in its entirety.
On the defense, attorneys for each accused man filed a motion to withhold evidence obtained through the admission of a co-defendant. Citing the case of Bruton v. United States, defense lawyers argued that pursuant to the ruling of that case, any statements made by a co-defendant could potentially violate their clients’ constitutional rights by distorting what was fact and what was hearsay, thus making the statements inadmissible in court.
The acceptance of this motion by Paruk may be a blow to the prosecution, as it effectively suppressed a videotape that purportedly showed Miguel Rodriguez confessing and implicating the four other men. But even without that tape there are still over 1,000 pages of documents, 40 witnesses and 20 DVDs of evidence to argue or refute.
If one thing is certain, it’s that the trial will probably be like the benches in the 31st District courtroom — long, hard, and, at times, very uncomfortable.