Jurors heard the groans of a dying gunshot victim Tuesday in a Jefferson Parish courtroom as testimony began in the trial of Tavis Joseph, who is accused of murdering two Southern University students two years ago.
No words were uttered during the recorded 911 call from Aug. 13, 2013, the night officers arrived at 4012 Paige Janette Drive in Harvey to find Nikiayh Westerfield and Dave Harrison shot to death in a black 1998 Chevrolet S-10 Blazer.
Westerfield died with a clear plastic bag of marijuana in his left hand and a rosary near his right hand, a stolen gun resting on the center console.
His cousin, Harrison, lay stretched out behind him, slumped over in the back seat.
The victims’ families say the students were not involved with drugs, but while testifying Tuesday, investigators reinforced early reports that the crime scene had the earmarks of a drug deal that had gone wrong.
Sgt. Gary Barteet, who supervised the investigation for the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office, testified that the scattered buds of marijuana on Westerfield’s lap and around the front seat of the car suggested a struggle had taken place.
Five people were arrested in connection with the shootings, two accused of helping cover up the crime and three — including Joseph — accused of murder.
Jerremy Coleman, 21, of Waggaman, was paralyzed during the incident, although it’s not clear who shot him. He pleaded guilty to two counts of manslaughter in exchange for his testimony and is serving 30 years in prison.
Irvin Harris, 22, of Harvey, was convicted of second-degree murder last year and sentenced in January to life in prison.
Harris’ mother and father were convicted of conspiracy to obstruct justice by aiding Harris in covering up the crime.
Jurors on Tuesday also saw gruesome photos of bullet wounds as testimony from detectives and a forensic pathologist got underway.
Joseph, 22, told investigators after his arrest that he was with his girlfriend at the time. His attorney told jurors there is no evidence he was ever at the crime scene.
He is charged with two counts of second-degree murder and faces life in prison if convicted.
Barteet said authorities believe a fourth person may have been involved in the shooting but that enough evidence hasn’t been gathered to obtain a search warrant.
The trial continues Wednesday. It is expected to wrap up this week.
Follow Chad Calder on Twitter, @Chad_Calder.