Last summer, after leaving Chevron gas station on Mableton Parkway near Veterans Memorial Highway at about 1:20 a.m., 36-year-old Joshua Chellew got into an altercation with a group of young men near the gas pumps. Prosecutors say a fight ensued, and when Chellew tried to run, four of the men chased him down and repeatedly punched and kicked him.
According to prosecutors, the men left Chellew lying unconscious on a five-lane road, and he was eventually struck by a car and killed. The driver was not charged.
Cobb Superior Court Judge Adele Grubbs is presiding over the proceedings, which will resume at 9 a.m. today. There is no timeline for the jury to return a verdict, said Jesse Evans, deputy chief assistant to the county district attorney. Evans added it may take some time because there are more than 475 pieces of evidence for the jury to consider.
Johnathan Anthony, 19, Kemonta Bonds, 22, Antonio Pass, 20, and Jekari Strozier, 21, all of Mableton, are each charged with malice murder, six counts of felony murder, one count of aggravated assault, one count of aggravated battery and four counts of violating the Street Gang, Terrorism and Prevention Act stemming from the death of Chellew on June 30, 2013.
They have been held without bond in the Cobb County jail since July 2, 2013.
Prosecutors allege the four young men are members of a gang called “Re-Up” and used photos from social media websites such as Twitter to show the defendants’ connection to the group. The defendants claim Re-Up is a rap group.
Evans alleges the defendants attacked Chellew for displaying a blue bandana, which clashed with the colors of their gang.
While narrating video footage of the incident obtained from the gas station’s security cameras, Evans asked the jury to note the defendants were out of view of the camera for 15 seconds. To illustrate how much could happen in this amount of time, Evans punched his open hand repeatedly while a pocket watch ticked 15 times.
“Fifteen seconds was an eternity for Mr. Chellew,” he said after his demonstration.
Cobb District Attorney Reynolds said his office is not seeking the death penalty in this case. However, a murder conviction carries an automatic life sentence in Georgia, he said.
Evans gave his closing argument first, then, after the four attorneys representing the defendants presented their closing arguments, he spoke to the jury again and addressed the issues the other attorneys brought up.
One of the most important principles in the case, Evans said, is the idea that when a group of people break the law, each member of the group is equally responsible, no matter what they may have done individually.
“It’s an all-for-one and one-for-all principle. It’s the idea that when people choose to engage in a criminal endeavor, when you make that conscious choice, you’re going to be held accountable, just like everybody else that’s involved in the enterprise,” he said.
Evans told the jury not to wonder what each of the defendants may have done individually because they are all a party to the crime, which he said means they directly committed a crime, helped commit a crime or encouraged the commission of a crime.
“When they all participate, they’re all held equally accountable,” he said.
The prosecutor described why the defendants can be considered a criminal street gang and be charged as such, saying Georgia law states a criminal street gang is any group of three or more people with a common name, sign or characteristic which engages in criminal gang activity. Evans said the association can be formal or informal, but most gangs have an informal association. Still, he said there is no doubt Re-Up is not merely a musical group.
“Who else but gang members would be upset by the color blue?” he said.
While the jury watched the video footage of the incident, Evans said Chellew’s actions may not have been smart, but he did not do anything aggressive or attempt to fight the defendants.
“You can say whatever you want to about Mr. Chellew, but you can’t say this: ‘He deserved to die,’” Evans said.
Marietta lawyer Lee Storesund, who represented Anthony, said the state did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt his client actually committed a crime, and furthermore, video footage shows his client was trying to stop the crime.
“Other than innuendo … all the evidence you see does not show Johnathan Anthony actively participated in anything that got Joshua Chellew killed,” he said.
In his final summation, Evans said the video footage does not support Storesund’s claim that Anthony was trying to stop the crime.
“You saw that video; he wasn’t trying to stop anything,” he said.
Thomas Griner, also based in Marietta, represented Bonds and said his client did not participate in the alleged assault on Chellew, adding the state did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt his client did anything wrong.
“Mere presence at the scene of the crime does not necessarily show someone is guilty of the crime unless they commit the crime, help in the actual perpetration of the crime or participate,” Griner said.
Pass was represented by Marietta attorney Bert Cohen, who also argued his client tried to stop the crime.
In response to these statements, Evans asked the jury why the defendants fled if they did not do anything wrong.
Marietta attorney Mitch Durham, who represented Strozier, said his client did not intend for Chellew to die and could not be found guilty of murder because Chellew’s death was caused by something independent of the defendant — being struck by a car.
Evans said Strozier’s intentions are not relevant; the outcome of the incident was inevitable after the defendants left Chellew in the street to die.
“But for their actions, Mr. Chellew would be alive and well today. That is causation as a matter of law,” Evans said.