By Vanesa Brashier, firstname.lastname@example.org
Four co-conspirators in the September 2015 murder of a Hull man took their turns on the witness stand this week to testify in the Capital Murder trial of Antonio Jerrell Ary, 26, of Sugarland.
Wearing orange prison jumpsuits and shackles on their feet and hands, the accomplices in the murder entered the 75th State District Courtroom with armed peace officers. They slowly made their way to the witness stand, raised their right hand as far as the shackles would allow and swore before the Honorable Judge Mark Morefield to tell the truth about the night they all plotted to rob a known dope house on 1010 Elaine St. in Dayton.
One after another, they placed guilt for the shooting death of Ray Von Burger III, 27, of Hull, on Ary, who sat stoically in the courtroom beside his attorney, Eugene Hong.
Courthouse security was increased for the trial, which began Monday and wrapped up around 7:30 p.m. Friday, June 28. Tensions in the courthouse were high as the co-defendants testified that they were afraid of retribution from Ary’s friends for cooperating with the prosecution.
In the last couple of weeks, the co-defendants – Cori Cadoree, Jennifer Paddy, Dre Bush and Kay Lynn Chambers – have accepted plea deals in exchange for their testimony in Ary’s trial. Paddy and Bush pleaded to a lesser charge of Murder and were sentenced to 20 years in prison. Cadoree and Chambers pleaded guilty to Burglary of a Habitation With the Intent to Commit a Felony Crime and were each sentenced to 15 years in prison.
Burger, known as “Ray Ray,” was not even the intended target of the Sept. 13, 2015 robbery. Burger was friends with Chuck and Michelle Brown, who rented the trailer house, and was briefly staying them. The admitted drug dealer, Thomas “T.C.” Duncan, rented a room from the Browns and used that as a base for his drug operation.
Duncan testified that he previously sold drugs to Cadoree. On the morning of the murder, he traded Cadoree a small amount of meth in exchange for an XBox game system. Later in the day, Cadoree contacted him again in a succession of texts and phone calls regarding the purchase of an 8-ball of meth. Duncan grew suspicious about Cadoree’s intentions, knowing he did not have money to buy the drugs.
“I knew there was something fishy about it. That’s why I quit responding to his texts,” Duncan said.
Paddy, 33, testified that the idea for the robbery came from Cadoree, who asked her to find other people willing to help commit the robbery. Bush, she said, was like a brother to her and someone she trusted, so he was a natural choice. Ary, a cousin of her baby’s father, was picked, as was Chambers, Paddy’s cousin by marriage. She said the five of them met at her apartment at the corner of Trinity and Cos streets in Liberty and discussed their plans to rob Duncan.
“Cori brought up robbing T.C. because he said he had $13,000,” Paddy said. “He didn’t want the people he wanted to rob to see him, so he asked me to get some people.”
After hatching their plan, Chambers went to her home a few blocks away and got her children ready for bed. Paddy, needing a gun for the robbery, went to her cousin’s house and took a pink and black handgun from his gun safe without his knowledge. Bush had a black handgun he purchased from a teenager in Baytown and Ary had a revolver-style pistol.
Sometime between 10 and 10:30 p.m., Paddy, Cadoree, Ary and Bush, loaded up in Paddy’s Dodge Magnum, picked up Chambers and headed to Dayton. During the 10-mile drive, Ary and Bush exchanged handguns.
Cadoree knew where Duncan lived, so he showed them how to find the house. They circled the block a couple of times, then went to Westside Grocery, where Chambers and Cadoree went inside to get drinks and a Swisher cigar for Chambers. Inside the store, they ran into the Browns and their friend, Jamie Tanay Storey, as they were trying their luck on electronic gaming machines. After a brief exchange with Storey, who was friends with Cadoree, Chambers and Cadoree returned to the car.
They circled the trailer house a couple more times before parking on a side street. Paddy testified that she volunteered to go to the front door to see if Duncan was home. Trey Everett answered the door and let her in while he went to tell Duncan he had a visitor. Meanwhile Paddy called out to Bush and Ary to come inside the house. Cadoree and Chambers, claiming that Duncan would recognize them from previous drug deals, sat in the car and waited.
Paddy admitted she held a gun on Austin Ainsworth, who was resting on a couch, while Bush and Ary went to the bedrooms. Ainsworth confirmed this part of her account in his testimony.
While Bush began looking for things to steal from the home, Ary confronted Duncan and Burger. The three men got into a struggle with Duncan’s bedroom door between them. During the struggle, the door was knocked from its hinges. Ary fired once through the door, striking Burger between the eyes and killing him instantly.
Paddy said when she heard the gunshot from down the hall, she and Bush fled to the car. Ary followed seconds later. They fled without the drugs or money that had motivated the robbery.
Chambers drove them away from the scene just before police arrived.
Paddy testified that when Ary got into the car, he slapped his hands on the dash and said, “Free body!” She explained that “free body” is a reference to lyrics of a rap song about killing a person and getting away with it.
“Was he upset?” Prosecutor Koby Hoffpauir asked her.
“At some point, he started to get scared and said, ‘Take me to Houston.’ He asked me if there was blood on him,” Paddy said.
Instead of going to Houston, the group headed back to Liberty, dropping off Cadoree near Fort Worth Street.
“He wanted to get out of the car and wanted the guns,” she said.
Paddy testified that she was anxious to hand the guns over to someone else because she is a convicted felon and is prohibited from possessing a firearm.
Cadoree admitted that he took the three handguns and buried them before finding a place to stay for the night.
Chambers drove the remaining four to a game room on FM 563 where she called one of her brothers for help. Chambers testified that she borrowed some bleach from her brother’s house, which was used to wipe down the car to remove fingerprints, DNA and other evidence.
From the game room, they drove to Raywood, where Paddy and Bush got a ride back to Paddy’s sister’s house in Liberty. Ary spent the night in the bedroom Chambers shared with her small children, as her other brother slept in the next room with his children.
Chambers claimed she didn’t rouse her brother because she was afraid that Ary might hurt them all.
The day after the home invasion, Paddy grew concerned about her cousin’s missing handgun, so she confided in her baby’s father. He told Cadoree to dig up the weapons and return them, and he did. Paddy said she slipped into her cousin’s house and put the handgun back in his safe without him ever realizing it had been used in the commission of a crime.
As for the gun that Ary used to shoot Burger, Paddy claimed that her baby’s father had broken it into multiple pieces and disposed of it so no one would ever find it again.
“Was he mad?” Hoffpauir asked of her baby’s father.
“He beat me to the ground and took my child, but he beat me all the time anyway,” she said. “He wanted me to go back to North Carolina with him.”
Paddy said she refused because she didn’t want to leave her other children behind.
When asked if she was scared for her well-being, given that her other co-defendants complained about threats of retaliation from Ary’s family and friends, Paddy said, “No, I am worried about Antonio losing his life in prison.”
Hoffpauir reminded her that Ary had taken a life during the robbery.
“We all did something,” Paddy said.
POLICE FIND LEADS EARLY IN INVESTIGATION
In the hours after the murder, investigators with Dayton Police Department, with the assistance of Texas Ranger Brandon Bess, the Liberty County Sheriff’s Office and the Liberty County District Attorney’s Office, began developing a list of suspects through interviews with witnesses.
Bess credited the work of Dayton Police Department, particularly Capt. John Coleman and Lt. Shane Burleigh, in his testimony.
“Dayton Police Department knew this house, the victims and the suspects,” he said. “Because of the relationships that Dayton police officers have with the community, they know the witnesses and the witnesses know they can talk to certain officers. That’s how these investigations happen.”
One of the best witnesses to the crime was Trey Everett, who was pistol-whipped by Ary during the home invasion. Everett provided law enforcement with statements that helped identify the suspects. However, prosecutors were unable to use Everett’s testimony during the trial because he has since been killed in a car crash.
Once investigators connected all five of the accomplices, they began taking statements from them.
“In these instances, it would not be uncommon for them not to be truthful with me,” Bess said, adding that even the intended victim was not forthcoming at first.
Hong asked Bess if is was common to see blame-shifting among co-defendants, to which he replied, “Yes.”
During the presentation of the evidence in the case, which involved more than 300 items, Hoffpauir, using crime lab experts with the Texas Department of Public Safety, proved that Ary was in the car based on DNA taken from a cigarette in the car’s ashtray, though testing could not prove that Ary had touched Duncan’s bedroom door. Without the murder weapon to test against the bullet taken from Burger’s body, the prosecution relied heavily on the testimony of the four co-defendants to show that Ary committed the murder.
In closing statements, Hong tried to erode the jury’s confidence in the co-defendants. With no DNA evidence in the home and no weapon, he said, “What do you have left? Rotten wood all cobbled together. These are stories from people who have everything to lose.”
Hoffpauir reminded the jury that if Ary was not guilty and had nothing to fear, why was the gun destroyed?
“Because they didn’t want it to match to the casing,” he said. “Nobody ever said he was remorseful. Why? Because he’s a killer … If you are not the person who did this, then why would you need to obstruct justice and tamper with evidence?”
After nearly five hours of deliberation, the jury returned a verdict of guilty on one count of Burglary of a Habitation With Intent to Commit A Felony Crime and one count of Capital Murder. Ary, acting on his counsel’s advice, withdrew his request for the jury to assess his punishment and asked Morefield to do it instead.
Ary received 20 years in prison for the Burglary and was sentenced to spend the rest of his natural life in prison, without the possibility of parole, for the Capital Murder charge.
After sentencing, Ary was handcuffed and transported to the Polk County Jail where he will remain until he is picked up by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice and assigned to a prison.
The jury foreman, who asked that his name not be used, said after the trial that the inconsistent statements made by Ary’s co-defendants were taken into consideration, but jurors concentrated on the remaining evidence to draw conclusions.
“We all kind of thought he didn’t have much of a defense,” the foreman said. “It’s a difficult decision. There were a couple of people who knew it was the right thing to do but it was still a hard decision for several.”
The foreman said seeing the impact on the families of the defendants was equally hard.
“That whole thing is sad – talking about women with kids and all those things. It wasn’t just about one guy who lost his life in this deal. It’s a sad thing to see,” he said.
Ary is expected to appeal the verdict, though Hong will not be representing him in that process.
“Obviously we are disappointed with the results. It was a very difficult case. It was a very technical case because of the co-defendants. What the law says is that co-defendant testimony is not to be considered as evidence unless it is corroborated. The law basically states that co-defendants, because they have a reason to lie, are very untrustworthy,” Hong said.
Despite the accomplices’ shifting accounts, Hong said the jury clearly found in their verdict that they believed there was enough to link Ary to the crime.
“I do think this is a rotten wood case, but the question is was there enough to keep the rotten wood case together to find him guilty,” he said.
Hoffpauir praised the jury for digesting the mountain of evidence and concluding that Ary was guilty of the murder.
“They were diligent and took their time,” he said of the jury. “I can’t thank the law enforcement enough – Dayton PD, DPS, the sheriff’s office, the Rangers, my second chair [prosecutor] Kayla Herrington and all the DA investigators who helped us prepare for trial. It was a long time coming.”
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