The fate of a Nitro man will be in the hands of 12 jurors Thursday morning.
The case against 30-year-old Juan Xavier Chic was handed over to jurors at about 6:10 p.m. Wednesday, the third day of Chic’s murder trial before Chief Kanawha Circuit Judge Joanna Tabit.
By 6:15 p.m., the jury of seven women and five men had decided to go home and begin deliberating Chic’s case with fresh eyes Thursday morning.
Jurors are tasked with determining whether Chic shot and killed 27-year-old Andre Leonard along Elm Street in Institute on Aug. 15, 2018.
Kanawha Assistant Prosecutors Deb Rusnak and Adam Petry rested their case early Wednesday afternoon after hearing testimony from West Virginia State Police forensics experts.
Chic’s defense attorneys, Allison Santer and David Ford, called two witnesses, West Virginia State Police Cpl. S.W. Perdue and Carla Harris, who called 911 to report the shooting.
Before defense attorneys rested their case, Chic talked with them for about 45 minutes before he ultimately decided not to testify.
Chic, 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 firearm.
In 2008, Chic pleaded guilty in federal court to one count of lying on a form to purchase a firearm, according to court records. U.S. District Judge David Faber sentenced Chic to five years probation, and as such he was prohibited from owning or possessing a gun.
Kanawha prosecutors had agreed not to tell the jury what crime Chic previously was convicted of. Jurors only were told that Chic had a previous conviction that legally prohibited him from owning a gun.
Prosecutors said on Aug. 15, 2018, Chic, driving a silver Chrysler 300, drove with a woman to Elm Street and parked behind a white Nissan sedan driven by Torrion Betts. Leonard was Betts’ passenger.
Chic is accused of shooting and killing Leonard, who had two children with the woman traveling with Chic that day.
Leonard was shot and killed as he and the woman approached one other to exchange money for the woman to take the children shopping for school clothes.
Chic’s attorneys argued he and the woman were at the wrong place at the wrong time, and State Police picked Chic as a suspect and built a case around him, failing to pursue other suspects, including Betts, who testified in the trial Tuesday.
They also raised the possibility that an unknown person could have approached Leonard, shot him, and fled the area.
In closing arguments, Rusnak said the evidence didn’t support the defense’s theory.
“The defense wants you to believe that the police had it out for the defendant, that they picked him, that they formed the evidence around him,” Rusnak said. “That’s not what this shows. The only person that picked anything was the defendant. He picked the day. He picked the place, and he picked his victim.”
Ford responded by reminding jurors that the woman initially lied to police about her and Chic’s involvement in Leonard’s death, later changing her story to avoid charges against her and to keep custody of her children.
Ford called Chic’s case “a textbook case of reasonable doubt.”
“A lot of our witnesses don’t tell the truth,” Ford said. “The stories of the witnesses don’t match up. This is a case where the police failed to follow up on pertinent evidence and failed to test potential evidence. This case is about as clear as mud.”
In his rebuttal closing arguments, Petry said the physical evidence from the case — shell casings, bullet holes in vehicles, and gunpowder residue — perfectly supported witnesses statements, and the defense was trying to muddy the water to confuse jurors.
“I guess according to defense counsel, every one of the state’s witnesses, everyone involved in this case, is a liar,” Petry said. “No one’s telling the truth, no one — that’s what the defense wants you to believe because that’s what they have to do. They understand how damning this evidence was up here yesterday.”
Two people who lived along Elm Street at the time of the shooting testified that they heard gunshots, with one woman, Carla Harris, calling 911. Both witnesses testified they saw a white vehicle speed away from the scene, but they never saw anyone they would identify as the shooter.
Investigators never recovered a murder weapon. Two guns that were recovered in the investigation belonged to Leonard and the woman who was with Chic.
Phillip Cochran, a firearms and ballistics analyst with the State Police, testified that neither the woman’s nor Leonard’s guns matched the bullet recovered from Leonard’s body during his autopsy.
He said bullet holes in the rear of the Nissan matched the caliber of bullet recovered from Leonard’s body, and bullet holes in the front of the Chrysler matched the caliber of the gun found next to Leonard’s body.
Korri Powers, a trace evidence analyst for the State Police, testified that she tested the Chrysler and Nissan for gunpowder residue, and she found a small trace of residue in the driver’s side door of the Chrysler Chic had been driving.
Powers said she only was asked to test the vehicles as well as the woman who was with Chic, and she didn’t find any evidence of residue on the woman or in the Nissan driven by Betts.
Defense attorneys noted that Powers did not perform a gun residue test on Betts, even though State Police Cpl. Perdue twice interviewed Betts after the shooting after “information available at the scene” prompted troopers to track him down and speak with him. Perdue said the investigation into the shooting later lead to Betts being a witness in the case.
On Tuesday, the woman who was with Chic that day testified she initially lied to investigators because she’d just watched Chic kill Leonard, and Chic threatened to kill her and her children if she snitched on him.
After she was arrested and incarcerated at South Central Regional Jail, the woman said her mother filed for custody of her daughters. After talking with her sister, the woman said she reached out to investigators and told them Chic was the person who shot and killed Leonard.
Chic is incarcerated at South Western Regional Jail.