The trial of Jamar Angel Jackson for the October 2019 shooting death of Tahiba Willis outside a now-closed Lawton nightclub has been about capturing what happened in a moment amidst the chaos of gunshots.
For Assistant District Attorney Christine Galbraith, it means attempting to prove the combination of rival gang members and a night of drinking led to deadly consequences.
Jackson’s defender, Al Hoch Jr. is arguing the death of Willis, 26, came as a result of the same argument but is attempting to entice the jury to believe it was another gang member.
At the core of the trial, Jackson, 21, is facing a first-degree murder charge for which he could serve the rest of his life in prison if found guilty.
District Judge Irma Newburn is presiding over the trial. Following witness testimony in the morning, it was up to the judge whether to allow Sgt. Curtis Underwood from Lawton Police Gang Unit testify as an expert witness. Despite 14 of his 17 years with the department being spent in the specialized unit, he was denied expert status but allowed to testify as an investigating officer.
Underwood identified the seven local gang groups as well as local sets and subsets. Among those are the 107 Hoover Crips, whom Jackson is identified as being affiliated with, and the Neighborhood Crips with whom Willis was affiliated. He said he’d had a lot of prior interaction with Jackson on his beat.
During cross-examination by Hoch, the lawyer brought up two other potential shooters from the incident. He noted that Willis’ gang had gone to look for a relative of Willis’ following the killing for retaliation and that investigators knew this information.
“Tahiba’s gang knew who shot Tahiba, didn’t they?” Hoch asked.
Underwood replied: “Correct.”
The investigators said he didn’t know of any investigation of either of the potential suspects.
Galbraith played security video from the G-Spot. 1714 Cache Road, from the morning of Oct. 6, 2019, for Lawton Police Detective Robert Meurant. It’s those events that are under scrutiny.
Police were called around 1:55 a.m. to the bar on the report of a shooting and arrived to find Willis suffering gunshot wounds to the chest and abdomen. Jackson became a suspect while investigating another man, Eric Titus, who was with Jackson during the event. Titus had testified earlier that he and Jackson are friends and that he knows Jackson carried a gun. He told investigators that while outside the club to leave, he saw Jackson hunched down at one point and when he stood, he had a handgun pointed at Willis before firing “4 or 5 rounds” at him. He told police he ran from the scene with Jackson before separating.
Galbraith had Meurant point out Titus and Jackson running from the scene in a video from a nearby business. They were among several people fleeing after, the investigator said, the shots were fired.
Jackson, who had been in Dallas, Texas, for about a month after the incident had returned to Lawton and was arrested for the murder warrant that was filed on Nov. 6, 2019, and spoke with Meurant.
Meurant said Jackson admitted to being associated with the “Hoover Mafia.” Jackson told him when he saw a social media post alerting he was wanted, he returned to Lawton and was arrested before he could turn himself in.
In the security video from the entrance/exit to the club, Titus was identified leaving, followed almost two minutes later by Jackson. Willis was seen leaving a minute or two later. The video showed a group of people rush back inside the club a short time later. It was after that, Meurant said, one of the other potential suspects was seen leaving the club.
Jackson told Meurant he’d left at the same time or even just ahead of Titus.
One issue with the security video is its time stamp was an hour and 15 minutes different than the actual time. Meurant explained 15 minutes of that being set for “bar time” and the hour differential being due to not being reset during a time change.
Hoch questioned how Meurant knew the gunfire was why the people were running back inside and wondered if the detective wasn’t adjusting the time of the video to coordinate with the first 911 calls that morning.
“They had a drastic change of behavior,” Meurant argued as evidence something was happening, to which Hoch responded it was “speculation.”
“No sir, that’s not my way,” Meurant responded.
The detective said a recorded jail phone call between Jackson and Titus had the defendant asking Titus to change his story to police. Hoch objected and Meurant said Jackson had asked him to “tell the truth.” He conceded that was how it was phrased but argued it meant for him to change his story.
Soon after that testimony, a man in the gallery stormed out of the courtroom, slamming a door against the wall as he left. It was a moment that uncorked tension permeating the courtroom.
A member of the gallery of friends and family of Willis stood up and pointed to Jackson and shouted:
“Get rid of that (expletive) that killed my son!” she said in a raised voice while leaving the courtroom.
Pointing at the defendant, she made one more assertion before being removed and banned from the courtroom:
“You’re gonna die!”
Newburn warned the gallery the repercussions for outbursts and warned anyone acting up will be cleared from the gallery.
“This is a homicide case and, therefore, some people’s emotions do run high,” she said. “But the last thing any of you want to do is cause a mistrial.”
A witness from the State’s Medical Examiner’s Office will take the stand when the case resumes at 9 a.m. today.