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Witnesses testify in day one of trial for fatal shooting at Romney Meadows

Andre Hastings faces one charge of murder and one charge of attempted murder for the incident that happened on August 2nd, 2019.

Posted: Oct 13, 2020 8:13 PM
Updated: Oct 13, 2020 8:37 PM

LAFAYETTE, Ind. (WLFI) - A jury has heard from the first seven witnesses in day one of Andre Hastings' trial. Hastings is accused of shooting and killing Drequan Burglar at Romney Meadows on August 2nd, 2019.

According to the probable cause affidavit, police were called to Romney Meadows around 12:45 a.m. on the 2nd. When they arrived, officers said they found Burglar suffering of a gunshot wound. Police spoke with Jonathan Simpson, who said he was talking with Burglar outside when they were approached by another man they didn't know.

Simpson told police that he saw the man reach for his hip, that's when he ran away thinking Burglar was with him. In the PC, it says Simpson heard the shots being fired as he ran. When he realized Burglar was not there, he went back to find Burglar shot.

Lafayette Police got security camera footage from around the complex of the night. Burglar was later pronounced dead at the hospital. As we previously reported, Hastings was found and arrested on September 19th, 2019. Police said he was hiding with relatives.

Hastings received one initial charge of murder for the death of Drequan Burglar. News 18 received this charge and the PC from the Tippecanoe County Prosecutor on August 12th, while Hastings was still at large. A second charge of attempted murder in connection to Simpson was added on February 19th, 2020.

The jury, selected on Friday, assembled in the Superior 2 courtroom at 8:30 Tuesday morning. The trial began with opening statements from the prosecuting attorneys and from Hastings' defense attorney, Scott King. Opening statements are not to be used as evidence, but only as a preview of what each side plans to prove to the jury over the course of the trial.

"A life changing decision for one stranger," started Deputy Prosecuting Attorney, Natasha Corbett. She said the jury would see evidence over the next few days that would prove Andre Hastings guilty of his charges. This would be based on witness testimony and on the security camera footage from Romney Meadows.

King then gave his opening statements for the defense. He said they would use the same camera footage to prove the opposite. He said the key to their arguments would be discrepancies in the description of the suspect provided by witnesses. And he said Hastings isn't the only person seen running away from the gunshots in the videos, and that this other person matched the suspect description more. He was talking about a man named Michael Robinson.

The state began official testimony by calling Jonathan Simpson to the witness stand. Simpson said he had only been living in Lafayette for a few months and that he spent most of his spare time with Burglar. He said he and Burglar were cousins through marriage. He said he drove to Romney Meadows that night to Burglar's apartment.

He said Burglar wanted to talk with him outside, so they walked out to a grassy area between apartment buildings. He said they had been out there for 15 to 20 minutes when a man they didn't know walked up to them. He said the man was "mean mugging" them so a confrontation began. Burglar said he stayed focused on the man's face.

He initially told police the description of the man as brown skinned, wearing a dark hoodie, dark jeans, had a fade hair cut style and was around the same height as him, which is about 5'5". On Monday in court, he amended that description, saying the man was wearing a white shirt under an open black hoodie and that the person was the same height or taller. Hastings is around 6 feet tall, according to his attorney. 

Much of his story matched what was given in the probable cause affidavit. He got more specific saying he heard two to three gunshots being fired. He said the lighting was poor in the area, but that the stranger walked within a couple of feet of them. The state then played the security footage for the jury for the first time.

Romney Meadows has 32 security cameras throughout the premises. LPD has direct access to several of the cameras through a live feed. Footage from 12 cameras was utilized during the investigation.

Simpson identified himself and Burglar as they left the apartment and walked to the grassy area where they talked. You can see what appears to be a man in a white shirt approach them and then run off shortly after. As the other camera footage shows the man in white running, there is also another man in black running away in the same direction.

The state then played the 911 call made by Simpson's girlfriend. You can hear the woman frantically tell the operator that Burglar is bleeding, that they don't know who the shooter was and that he appeared to still be breathing. Simpson eventually gets on the line and gets frustrated with the operator. Simpson recalled that he was scared, angry and traumatized by what had happened, which was why he wasn't very cooperative with police that night.

After calming down later in the day on the 2nd, Simpson looked at a set of mugh shots for identification from LPD. He selected #2 on the lineup, but he said he was only 50% sure about the selection. The #2 photo was of Michael Robinson. A few hours later, a second lineup was brought to Simpson at his apartment. The state played the recorded video of this session. The officer tells Simpson to take his time, but within seconds, he points to #4 on the list. The #4 photo is Andre Hastings. He said in the video he was 100% positive.

When cross-examined by the defense, King focused on the description discrepancy right away. According to police reports, Simpson told officers the person responsible was wearing all black. However in court, he said he remembers seeing a white shirt and a hoodie. King asked if he changed his description after seeing the security videos showing a person in just a white shirt approach them. Simpson remained adamant in what he remembered in court and that he focused on the face of the suspect that night, not the clothes.

A juror asked if Simpson and Hastings could stand next to each other for a height comparison. Judge Steven Meyer and the attorneys all allowed it. Hastings was noticeably taller. He was about half a foot taller than Simpson when looking strictly at the top of each person's head. Hastings' hair has grown significantly since his arrest and initial mug shot, adding more to his height.

Officer Matthew Wozniak testified next. He is an LPD officer and is a crime scene investigator. He said he was the CSI on call the night of August 2nd. He photographed the evidence found at the scene. This included two shell casings found near each other in the grass, a shoe, a grey sweatshirt and a black sweatshirt. There was a small red stain on the sidewalk and a large stain in the grass where Burglar had been laying. An unspent bullet was also found on the concrete patio of an apartment nearby. He said he also took photos at the autopsy the following day.

King cross-examined Officer Wozniak, asking if the scene had been tampered with at all before he arrived. Wozniak did say the taped off crime scene area was initially smaller until they found the shell casings, but he said that happens often at crime scenes as police search the area and discover more evidence. King asked if it was possible someone had kicked, accidentally moved or stepped on the shell casings while they were outside the crime scene tape. Wozniak said it was unlikely given that the casings were just sitting on top of the grass lightly, and hadn't been obviously stepped on or muddied.

King asked if it was possible the casings were from a previous shooting after Officer Wozniak said he had investigated several shootings at Romney Meadows. King also asked if there had been any attempt to try and get DNA samples off of the shell casings. Wozniak said he was unsure and that that was outside the scope of his duties on the case.

The judge then asked the jury to leave so that he and the attorneys could deal with a procedural matter. The state wanted to present photos taken from Hastings' cell phone of him holding a gun. They argued they wanted the chance to connect the firearm to the evidence found at the scene. The actual murder weapon was never found.  The defense argued this would create prejudice against Hastings as a gun owner and that the pictures weren't relevant because they were taken about a month before the incident. Judge Meyer ruled with the defense and did not allow the pictures to be used.

The second matter is regarding the testimony of LPD Detective Paul Huff. With the jury still gone, Det. Huff offered his knowledge on firearms ballistics and CSI training. He provided knowledge to help identify if the weapon Hastings had in the cell phone photos was a Glock firearm or a BB gun. He also gave information on what kind of markings a Glock leaves on casings that is specific to the manufacturer. King argued that Det. Huff's ability to testify on this matter hadn't been submitted to him until less than a week ago, which he said is far too late to be calling in a "skilled witness" versus an "expert." The state argued that Huff made these findings in a report from August of 2019 and that that was sufficient time to know of what he could be testifying on. Judge Meyer again ruled in favor of the defense, citing a previous case that set a precedent for this kind of situation.

Just before the lunch break, the state asked for a writ for arrest for Michael Robinson. Robinson had failed to appear at the courthouse, despite having been served a subpoena. 

After lunch, Det. Huff did get a chance to testify on another matter related to the case. He is also a forensic computer examiner for LPD and he searched the phone of Mikita Gunnart. She was Hastings' girlfriend. He presented text messages from her phone between her and Hastings, sent around 12:35 a.m. on the 2nd. He said he was coming over. In the text, she made it seem like she didn't want to see Hastings saying to him at one point to delete her number. According to the probable cause affidavit, she told police she had met with Hastings briefly outside her apartment at Romney Meadows. When Hastings walked away, she said she went back into her apartment.

Huff also broke down the different security cameras used to compile footage of the night. He also edited together the clips in a chronological order.

Scott Owens from the Indiana State Police Laboratory testified next. He is a forensic firearms examiner for the state. He examined the two cartridge casings found at the scene that night. He confirmed they were fired from the same gun based on individual characteristics left on the surface of the metal. 

He also added some clarity to the question the defense brought up about testing shell casings and bullets for DNA or fingerprints. He said while the lab does have the capacity to test for DNA and fingerprints, a study done found that the success rate of collecting these is so low, that it does not routinely provide the service. A law enforcement agency has to submit a request with justification if they want the lab to test for DNA of fingerprints. 

He also said unless there is visible signs of DNA, such as a blood stain, the smooth surface of the casing doesn't hold on to DNA well. And any heat generated inside the gun during a shooting would damage or destroy any DNA or prints left behind. He confirmed that they did not test these two specific cartridges for DNA or fingerprints.

Finally, Owens confirmed that based on the imprint design left on the cartridge by the firing pin inside the gun, the murder weapon had to have been either a Glock or a Smith and Wesson. And based on the polygonal rifling found on the casing, Owens said it most certainly was a Glock, because Smith and Wesson guns do not use polygonal rifling.

Michael Robinson finally appeared at court and was brought in to testify next. When Judge Meyer asked why he had ignored his subpoena, he said he had received a death threat from one of Hastings' sisters, who he works with. He said he was scared to come in and that having the family in the audience gallery would distract him from giving testimony. He also said he was basketball friends with Hastings and didn't want to be seen as a snitch.

After some debate between the state and defense, Judge Meyer sided with the state and closed the courtroom to the public, but allowed the press, bailiffs and the jury to remain. 

Robinson said he was at his girlfriend's apartment at Romney Meadows when he received a call from his mom, saying she was going to pick him up so they could drive to Illinois. He said he was leaving the apartment when he heard shots being fired and he ran away. He testified that he did not see any shots being fired and that he only heard them. He also said he did not shoot anybody on August 2nd, 2019. 

He confirmed that he was wearing a black t-shirt and black pants that night. He also said he saw Hastings running away that night and identified himself and Hastings in several of the security camera clips. In the videos, he eventually stops running and starts to walk. He said he eventually saw his mom's car. He said they left, stopped at a nearby gas station and then headed out to Illinois. A juror asked him if he knew what made him decide to stop running and he replied that he didn't know.

The last testimony for the day came from Annie Ellison. She said she was baby sitting for her daughter at the apartment complex that night. She said she was standing outside smoking and waiting for her daughter to return when she heard two, maybe three gun shots. She said she saw a man running from where she heard the shots and described him as a black man wearing a white shirt, dark pants and short hair. She said she then went straight back into the apartment. When shown the same lineup of photos shown to Jonathan Simpson, she did not circle any photo, saying she could not make an identification based on facial features.

Day two of testimony will begin on Tuesday at 8:30 a.m. News 18 will bring you the latest updates on News 18 at Noon.

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