Chad Huth and three buddies had smoked some weed, eaten some Port of Call fare and settled in to watch the launch of the HBO series “Treme” when a knock came at their Gentilly door.
“After that it was crazy,” said Paul Patin, who answered the knock about 1 a.m. on April 22, 2010.
“I cracked open the door and saw faces I had never seen before,” Patin said from the witness stand in an Orleans Parish courtroom Tuesday. “I managed to get the door closed, but I think they were kicking the door. There was multiple people trying to get in the house.”
They ripped the door from its hinges, and Patin said he heard a gunshot, crawled to his room in the house on Cameron Boulevard and searched in vain for his 9mm handgun.
He said he jumped out the window and hid under a neighbor’s house while two of the invaders demanded that Christopher “Corky” Wells open the locked door to Patin’s room.
“ ‘I’m not opening that ... door. Go ahead and kill me now,’ ” Wells testified that he told them.
They busted down the door anyway. One of the men then shoved Wells against the wall and held a gun to his head.
“The shorter-haired man, the one in this courtroom today, he pulls the trigger,” Wells said. “The gun jammed. I moved toward the middle of the room, at which point the other person with long dreadlocked hair began to fire at me multiple times.”
Wells survived with gunshot wounds to his arm and side.
Huth, his Holy Cross School classmate and fellow graduate, wasn’t so fortunate.
The 24-year-old aspiring electrician died slumped against the locked bathroom door, struck by a single shot that went through his back and out his arm, fatally damaging internal organs.
More than five years later, one of two brothers accused in the murder sat upright in a white dress shirt at the defense table as a Criminal District Court jury heard emotional testimony.
Joshua Lee, 23, faces counts of murder, attempted murder and aggravated burglary. His older brother, Christopher Lee, has been charged with the same counts and awaits his own trial pending the outcome of pretrial appeals.
Seemingly endless delays in the case led Joshua Lee’s defense attorney, Kevin Christensen, to file an 11th-hour motion Tuesday morning to throw out the murder case, arguing that prosecutors with District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro’s office had delayed it long past the two-year statutory limit.
Judge Arthur Hunter denied the motion and refused to halt the trial pending an appeal.
So opening statements began shortly before 2 p.m., with prosecutor Laura Rodrigue previewing a case built on a cellphone from the murder scene that led investigators to the Lee brothers; ballistics from a gun found in the brothers’ house that matched bullets fired in the deadly fracas; and a jailhouse phone call that has yet to be played in court.
Patin and Wells both identified Joshua Lee in unequivocal terms after Huth’s mother, Melanie Huth, had taken the stand. She tearfully described her son as “so affectionate that when he walked in a room, you knew he was there. He didn’t just say, ‘Hi.’ He said, ‘I love you,’ and he hugged you like a big soft bear.”
A large crowd of family members and friends dabbed tissues to their eyes in the courtroom gallery.
Christensen sought to cast doubt on both the certainty of the witness identifications and the ownership of the recovered gun.
A younger brother, Lionel Lee, had told police during a search of the house that the gun was Joshua’s.
Now 21, Lionel Lee faces his own murder trial date next month, accused with another man in the June 2013 slaying of 24-year-old Bobby Battles in Algiers.
Prosecutors plan to call him to the witness stand, though Rodrigue acknowledged his cooperation is unlikely.
In his cross-examination of both Patin and Wells, Christensen returned to the marijuana smoking that night — suggesting that the friends may have been too impaired to clearly identify the shooters.
Patin wasn’t having it.
“We weren’t smoking weed when they busted through the door,” he said. “Is that supposed to affect how I see someone? I think I can identify someone who is trying to come into my house whether I’ve smoked a joint or 10 of ’em.”
Rodrigue asked an emotional Wells, who described Huth as more like a brother than a friend, to identify Joshua Lee in court.
“Would this be the perpetrator who put the gun to your head and pulled the trigger?” she asked.
“It would,” he responded. “There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that that man put a gun to my head and pulled the trigger.”
Earlier, Christensen pointed out that when police arrived they found marijuana, guns and cellphones in the house, aiming to cast doubt on the story told by the witnesses of a home invasion gone awry.
Christensen also claimed police “laziness” led to the convenient arrest of Joshua Lee, “who couldn’t have had anything to do with it, who didn’t have anything to do with it.”
The trial is scheduled to continue Wednesday.
Follow John Simerman on Twitter, @johnsimerman.