Double-homicide weapon linked to previous shooting

December 10, 2013
Washington police work at the scene of the February 2009 double homicide at the Cabaret West bar on West Chestnut Street in Washington. - Observer-Reporter Order a Print

A state police ballistics expert tied the .22-caliber handgun used in the double homicide at Cabaret West in 2009 to another shooting that investigators said defendant Gregory Avery committed nearly six months before.

Investigators took multiple shell casings from the shootings that killed Marquis Taylor and Troy Saunders Jr. Feb. 16, 2009, and found they had identical markings to a single shell found after Washington police said Avery shot a city man in the shoulder in September 2008.

Cpl. Robert Hagins, a forensic firearm and toolmark examiner at the state police crime laboratory in Greensburg, testified Tuesday that the shell markings matched each other beyond “practical certainty” in the investigation, even though the firearm was never recovered.

“I was able to determine that they were all discharged from the same unknown firearm,” Hagins said.

“So it’s the same gun?” Assistant District Attorney Mike Lucas asked.

“Yes, sir,” Hagins said.

Avery, 25, of Washington, faces two counts of criminal homicide and one charge of conspiracy. During the four days of testimony, Avery typically had been sitting back in his chair, but he leaned forward and watched intently as Hagins spoke.

Defense attorney Mike DeRiso declined to cross-examine Hagins, and Lucas closed the prosecution’s case. DeRiso said he planned to call a trajectory expert Wednesday morning before moving into closing arguments. The jury of six men and six women could have the case before noon Wednesday.

The jury began Tuesday with a half-hour trip to the former Cabaret West bar to see where the shootings occurred. When testimony resumed at 10 a.m., Lucas asked investigators who responded to the shooting scene to walk the jury through evidence found around the bar.

State police Lt. Douglas Bartoe, a forensics investigator, said they found two .22-caliber shell casings in an alley behind the bar and found multiple 9 mm and .22-caliber casings in the bar’s parking lot. Phillip Whitlock, 31, who already pleaded guilty to third-degree murder in the shooting, said he used a 9 mm handgun to shoot Taylor multiple times. He testified Monday that Avery was the other shooter in the double homicide and shot both Taylor and Saunders.

Washington police Lt. Dan Stanek held packages containing the six bullets recovered from both victims at the hospital and during the autopsies. He testified that during an interview at the hospital with the surviving shooting victim, Lindsay Jolly, she told them “(Whitlock) shot me and the others.” She did not say if she saw anyone else shooting at them and did not know who shot Saunders.

Caroline Kinler, who lived in an apartment building near the Cabaret West, testified that she heard people talking near the bar just before a burst of 13 gunshots erupted. She came outside a minute later and watched as a Cadillac pulled up and fired four more times at the victims.

Heath Whitaker, the bartender working at the Cabaret West the night of the shootings, said he was counting money in the register when he heard gunshots. He initially thought it was a drive-by shooting, but then heard more gunshots a couple minutes later.

“I heard gunshots and got down,” Whitaker said. “Seconds. It was quick.”

He heard a woman outside moaning and found Jolly and Taylor wounded on the other side of a parked car. He tried to put pressure on one of Taylor’s wounds before noticing the man had been shot multiple times.

“I told (Jolly) it was going to be all right,” Whitaker said. “I told (Taylor) to lay still.”

He testified he never saw Avery inside the bar the night of the shooting.

Mike Jones has been a news reporter since 2005, covering crime, state and municipal government, education and energy. In addition to working at the Observer-Reporter, he also has spent time at the Charleston (W.Va.) Daily Mail and He holds a journalism degree from West Virginia University.

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