Kevin Jackson was proud to call Telly Hankton family, Melika Honore testified Tuesday about her common-law husband and his notorious cousin.
“From my understanding, Telly was well respected,” Honore said of the accused Central City crime kingpin. “That was (Jackson’s) cousin, and he was happy to say that was his cousin.”
But whether Jackson was proud enough to join Hankton and hit man Walter Porter in the 2009 murder of Jessie “TuTu” Reed or to sell drugs for the Hankton clan, as prosecutors allege, came into question Tuesday in the ongoing federal racketeering trial against Hankton, Jackson, Porter and Andre “Reese” Hankton.
Defense attorney Michael Fawer took aim at the prosecution’s theory that Jackson played a major role in Reed’s murder as both a shooter and the bagman who allegedly paid Porter $10,000 for his lethal services.
Of the four defendants facing charges in a trial in its third week, Jackson has lodged the most aggressive claim of outright innocence.
Through Honore and several other witnesses, Fawer staked out a defense that Jackson was a misguided add-on to the Hankton prosecution and that the government manufactured his alleged role as a drug dealer and “gunman for the enterprise.”
Fawer tried to cast doubt on a series of witnesses who claimed to have heard Porter brag about killing Reed alongside Telly Hankton and a cousin — or who said they saw Porter collect money from Jackson for the killing, including on a visit to Jackson’s house in Venetian Isles.
Honore and other family members testified Tuesday that Jackson, now 42, never carried a gun and was too busy running a sweet shop, a car wash and a scrap metal business to carry on a double life as a bloodthirsty cocaine dealer.
Mostly, though, Jackson’s defense revolved around his facial hair.
Witnesses who claimed they saw Jackson and Porter together said they identified the former by his “Rick Ross” beard — a reference to a rapper known for his bushy chin. Fawer sought to show a jury that Jackson was seen clean-shaven around the time Reed was killed, including at a wedding a week later.
Honore agreed, testifying that her husband did not grow out his beard until later.
Jackson has appeared clean-shaven and bald during the trial.
While she testified about Jackson’s entrepreneurial spirit, Honore couldn’t muster an ironclad alibi for her husband at the time of Reed’s June 20, 2009, murder. She said Jackson had left her at a hotel room they had booked that night for their anniversary; he went off to party with his brother, she said.
Honore said Jackson returned to the hotel room drunk sometime after 2:30 a.m., hours after Reed was gunned down a few minutes before midnight.
Honore said Jackson appeared “shocked” when Telly Hankton was named on TV as the suspect in Reed’s killing. But she also said she wasn’t aware that, over the two weeks surrounding Reed’s killing, her husband and Porter, the accused chief hit man, had exchanged more than 200 phone calls.
A 24-count indictment that once named 13 defendants wraps together five murders, including Reed’s killing and the death two weeks later of a witness, Hasan “Hockie” Williams.
But of the 101 “overt acts” that prosecutors list in the indictment, Jackson is accused only in the ones related to Reed’s killing.
A female cousin of Kevin Jackson testified Tuesday that Williams and Jackson had met before at her house.
Fawer sought to use her testimony to cast doubt on a statement Williams gave before his murder, claiming he recognized Telly Hankton as one of the gunmen in Reed’s killing but couldn’t make out the other two men inside a maroon Ford Taurus that pulled up to Reed’s house on Terpsichore Street and opened fire.
With the jury out of the courtroom, however, Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth Privitera declared Honore a liar and asked U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman to let her question Honore about an allegation that she “is the person who rented the maroon Taurus” used in Reed’s murder.
Feldman declined to allow it. The trial resumes Wednesday morning.
Follow John Simerman on Twitter, @johnsimerman.