West Virginia State Police honed in on a man accused of murder due to his criminal background without investigating any other suspects, the man’s attorneys said Monday.
Monday was the first day of the murder trial of Juan Xavier Chic, who is accused of shooting and killing 27-year-old Andre Leonard in August 2018 in Institute.
Chic, 30, of Nitro, is charged with first-degree murder, use or presentment of a firearm during the commission of a felony, and prohibited person in possession of a concealed firearm.
Kanawha Assistant Prosecutors Deb Rusnak and Adam Petry said evidence would show Chic shot and killed Leonard while Leonard was giving money to a woman who was with Chic that day. The woman and Leonard had children from a previous relationship, and Leonard was giving her money to take the children shopping for school clothes on Aug. 15, 2018.
Leonard and another man met at Leonard’s uncle’s home along Elm Street in Institute, where Leonard was paying the man back what he owed him. Leonard also had arranged to meet the woman at the home.
During opening arguments, Rusnak said Chic began shooting at Leonard as he approached the woman, and Leonard shot back, striking Chic’s mother’s vehicle, which he was driving that day.
“[The woman] ducks, and she screams and she runs back to the car,” Rusnak said. “And as she’s running she sees the defendant with the gun in his hand firing shots, and she sees Andre lying on the ground.”
Chic’s defense attorneys, Allison Santer and David Ford, said none of the witnesses at the scene saw Chic shoot Leonard. Instead, they argued several witnesses heard gunshots and saw Chic in the area and that police then focused on him because of his criminal history.
“Andre Leonard was shot to death,” Santer said. “That fact is indisputable, but the evidence will not prove that Juan pulled the trigger. At the end of this trial, we will see ... that Juan was low-hanging fruit, and the state picked him.”
West Virginia State Police Sgt. Brian Hammontree was the first witness to testify Monday. He testified that he was dispatched to Elm Street in Institute just after 6 p.m. on Aug. 15, 2018, and he found the body of Andre Leonard in Leonard’s uncle’s driveway.
The prosecutors played a video from a nearby barbecue restaurant, where they said Chic drove with the woman and ditched the vehicle, a silver Chrysler sedan belonging to Chic’s mother. Prosecutors said Chic attempted to hide the car after the shooting.
Ford questioned the trooper, asking which witnesses troopers spoke with at the scene and how they obtained certain evidence.
It wasn’t clear Monday whether Chic would testify in his defense.
Chic is incarcerated at Southwestern Regional Jail. His trial is scheduled to continue Tuesday morning.