By NEAL PUTNAM Uptown News
A jury could not come to a decision after two men testified a third man beat a 71-year-old North Park man to death with a baseball bat in 2000 in a cold homicide case that was brought only after DNA evidence was found in 2018 on the victim’s empty pockets where his wallet was taken.
On Friday, Nov. 1 the jury finally gave up on reaching a verdict as they deadlocked 9-3 in favor of conviction for first-degree murder. The foreman told the judge they took a ballot for second-degree murder, but couldn’t reach a verdict. The judge declared a mistrial.
The two men testified in the trial last week of Edward Jamar Brooks, now 39, who is charged with killing LeRay “Mac” Parkins, who was mortally injured during his morning walk at 8:35 a.m. in an alley behind 3675 Pershing Ave. in North Park on Aug. 23, 2000.
A crime lab technician, Tamira Ballard, testified she found Brooks’ DNA in three places on one pocket of Parkins’ shorts which were preserved. Advances in forensic DNA technology led to the arrest of Brooks, who was found in North Carolina.
Brooks’ attorney, Robert Ford, told jurors the two men were “the actual murderers” and that Brooks didn’t do it. Ford conceded in his opening statement that his client’s DNA was found in one pocket of Parkins’ shorts, but that was only when he took the wallet but didn’t kill him. Brooks has denied committing the slaying.
Closing arguments were heard Monday, Oct. 28, and the nine-man, three-woman jury began deliberations after being instructed by San Diego Superior Court Judge Runston Maino.
Parkins lived in North Park and was a choir member at the Metropolitan Community Church when it was located on 30th Street in North Park. MCC Senior Pastor Dan Koeshall recalled Parkins as “having the most beautiful Irish tenor voice” when Koeshall was the church’s music director in 2000.
Deputy District Attorney Christina Arrollado Schleicher is expected to ask jurors to convict Brooks of first-degree murder with the special circumstance of murder during a robbery. If convicted, Brooks faces a life term in prison without the possibility of parole.
Lester Roshunn Bell, now 39, testified he was walking down the alley with Brooks, who was holding a baseball bat. “I was kinda shocked when he hit him,” said Bell. “He happened to be a man walking through the alley.”
Bell said he thought Brooks was carrying the bat for “intimidation.” The jury is aware that Bell pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and faces up to 11 years in prison when he is sentenced on Nov. 15.
Bell was implicated in the crime because he asked an ex-girlfriend who worked at a clothing store if he could run someone else’s credit card to buy some clothes. Parkins’ credit card was used the same day and she recalled the request because it annoyed her. “Don’t get me in trouble,” she recalled telling Bell.
Also implicated was Terrence Maurice Brown, now 38, who signed the credit card at the clothing store. Brown has pleaded guilty to robbery and faces five years in prison when he is sentenced Nov. 15.
Ford accused Brown last week of wielding the bat that killed Parkins, but Brown denied it, saying he was the getaway driver and was never in the alley. Brown testified that Brooks and Bell came running back to the car “kind of giggling about the situation.” Brown quoted Bell as saying “Brooks went [obscenity] and hit somebody in the head.”
Brown said he asked Brooks what happened, and Brooks leaned forward and said: “Mind your own and you’ll live long”— a phrase Brown said he interpreted as a threat. Brown said the expression is common and it means, “you didn’t hear what you heard; you didn’t see what you saw.”
On cross-examination by Ford, Brooks became irritated and told the defense attorney, “Your client committed a crime.”
“He [Brooks] wants to be a coward and not man up and admit [what he did],” said Brown. “I never hit Mr. Parkins. I don’t know what Mr. Parkins looks like. Your client knows what Mr. Parkins looks like.”
Also testifying was San Diego Police Detective Jovanna Derrough, who said she asked Brooks in 2018 in North Carolina if he recalled details of a murder in North Park. She said Brooks told her “Oh, the bat,” without her mentioning what type of weapon. Derrough said Brooks described the victim as “the old white dude.” She said Brooks spontaneously added it was “down an alley in North Park.”
Anthony Johnson, a former police officer and now district attorney investigator, testified he requested additional DNA testing on the pants pockets in 2018.
Another witness was Philippe Poncey, a French teacher who was honored in 2009 as one of three Teachers of the Year by the San Diego Unified School District. Poncey testified he happened to notice a parked car whose engine was running “noisily” that day. He said the driver started “sliding down” in the seat as if he did not want to be seen, which was within a few minutes of the slaying. Poncey couldn’t identify the driver.
Brooks, Bell, and Brown all remain in jail.
— Neal Putnam is a local courthouse reporter.