An angry Jeremy Brown hurled bricks, a metal pipe and other items under an abandoned Wenonah Street house where Shaun Hartley cowered more than two years ago and then followed him — carrying a wooden board — into the house where Hartley’s bludgeoned body was found later that day, a witness testified Wednesday.
Michael Davis, who said his godmother lives next door to the duplex where Hartley was killed, recalled Brown asking him if he was a cop before stating, “I’m going to go inside and handle my damn business.” Brown then headed into the house with a two-by-four, he said.
“He handled his business. That’s why we’re here today. He beat Shaun Hartley to death,” prosecutor Larry McAlpine said earlier Wednesday in his opening statement to the dozen jurors and two alternates in state District Judge Chip Moore’s courtroom in Baton Rouge. Brown faces a second-degree murder charge.
McAlpine said Brown’s DNA — a drop of blood on the end of the board where the killer would have gripped it — was found on the bloody two-by-four.
Jurors were shown the actual board, as well as a crime scene video and photographs of the trash-strewn abandoned half of the duplex with Hartley’s badly beaten body on the floor in a rear room.
The killing of Hartley, a known prostitute, forced prosecutors to dismiss a murder charge against his former roommate and fellow prostitute, Shingo Edwards. Prosecutors said Hartley was the lone witness who connected Edwards to the Jan. 5, 2013 slaying of Keith Matthews on Erie Street.
Prosecutors also said there is no evidence to suggest Hartley was killed to silence him from testifying against Edwards, but Hartley’s family does not believe his death was unrelated to his cooperation with police in the Matthews slaying.
Hartley, 31, had requested and received protection from the East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney’s Office after identifying Edwards as the triggerman. Hartley, who told police Edwards repeatedly threatened to kill him if he told authorities about the fatal shooting, died a week after his release from East Baton Rouge Parish Prison following a monthlong stay for a prostitution arrest.
Prosecutors acknowledged losing track of Hartley after his September 2013 release from prison. East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore III has said it was exceedingly difficult to keep in touch with Hartley after he returned to prostitution.
McAlpine made no mention of Hartley’s prostitution activities in his opening statement, but Brown’s lead attorney, former prosecutor Jerry Settle, told the jury Hartley had a drug habit and lived a “hard and dangerous lifestyle.” Settle said Hartley prostituted himself by dressing as a woman.
Settle argued police and prosecutors have the wrong man in the killing of Hartley.
“The person who did this is still walking the streets,” he said.
Hartley also was stabbed in the heart, Settle noted, which he said suggests Hartley’s killer had an “emotional attachment” to the victim.
Davis testified Brown complained to him the morning of Sept. 12, 2013, that he and Hartley had taken drugs in the duplex the night before. When Brown woke up, his gun and Hartley were gone, he said.
Davis also said Brown wasn’t carrying anything when he eventually came out of the duplex and walked past Davis’ godmother’s house that morning. Davis said Brown told him Hartley had run out the back door and walked around the corner.
Ernest Toussaint Sr., who lived two houses down from the duplex where Hartley was killed, said he heard Brown complaining that Hartley had taken his .357-caliber revolver. Toussaint did not see Brown go into the duplex because he went back home and slept, but he said he observed Brown throwing items under the house at Hartley.
“He told him he wasn’t going to hurt him if he gave him his stuff back,” Toussaint remembered Brown telling Hartley.
Toussaint and Davis both testified that Brown cut himself while throwing a pipe under the house. They said he used grass to try to wipe the blood off.
Brown, 31, faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison if convicted as charged. The trial will resume Thursday.