Danville murder retrial, Day 1: Scene of slaying recalled a decade later

Danville murder retrial, Day 1: Scene of slaying recalled a decade later

DANVILLE — A former Danville police officer testified Monday he was called to a shooting at Elmwood Park on the evening of Oct. 24, 2009.

Nicholas Moody said that when he pulled into the parking lot of the park at 411 Elmwood Ave., he observed several objects on the ground, including a black and green backpack, a partially smoked cigarette, broken glass, a light-colored washcloth covered in what appeared to be brain tissue and a large piece of skull.

Moody was one of five current or former officers who testified during the first day of Lafayette Harper's second murder trial in the drug-deal-related shooting death of Timothy A. Shutes Jr.

Harper, now 35, was convicted of first-degree murder in Mr. Shutes' death on Oct. 2, 2014, following a four-day jury trial, and was sentenced to 65 years in prison on Dec. 17 that year.

However, in July 2017, the Fourth District Appellate Court reversed the conviction, saying Circuit Judge Nancy Fahey erred by allowing the jury to see the content of text messages sent to Harper's phone the night of the murder, "which contained inadmissible hearsay regarding defendant's rumored involvement in Shutes' murder."

On Monday afternoon, a jury of seven women and five men and two female alternates began hearing testimony in Harper's second trial, also presided over by Fahey. The trial resumes at 9 a.m. today.

During her opening statement, special prosecutor Haley Bookhout, of the Illinois Attorney General's Office, said she and co-counsel Robert Hollins-head would put on evidence showing that Mr. Shutes was shot and killed during a drug deal that was actually a robbery.

(They're trying the case because in 2014, Vermilion County State's Attorney Jacqueline Lacy was the county's public defender and represented Harper at his first trial.)

'It was his cousin'

Bookhout said Randall Smalley would testify he set up a deal to buy marijuana from Davieon L. "Buster" Harper, Lafayette's cousin.

In September 2010, Davieon Harper, now 37, was convicted on one count each of murder and armed robbery in connection with the crime. He's serving a 30-year sentence at Stateville Correctional Center.

Bookhout said Smalley will testify that on the night of Oct. 24, 2009, he and Mr. Shutes got into Davieon Harper's car. Mr. Shutes had a bag of money and got into the back passenger seat. On the way to the park, the driver got a phone call.

"That phone call was Lafayette Harper," Bookhout said, adding that Davieon Harper will testify that was a signal to let the defendant know where the money was in the car.

Bookhout said Smalley will also testify that once at the park, someone opened the back passenger side door of the car and grabbed the bag. During a struggle, Mr. Shutes was shot in the head with a shotgun.

"Davieon will tell you he knows it was his cousin, Lafayette Harper," Bookhout said of the shooter.

Bookhout also said Smalley will testify that the defendant "pulled the trigger on the shotgun that blew off Timothy Shutes' head."

In his opening statement, Vermilion County Public Defender Mike Mara, who is representing Lafayette Harper, said his evidence would show the elder Harper actually fired the gun.

Davieon Harper was convicted and sentenced for the murder "until he decided he was going to point the finger at Lafayette," Mara said.

He added that prosecutors offered Davieon Harper a deal that would allow him to serve only 10 years "to point the finger at Lafayette Harper."

'Sweating profusely'

Also on Monday:

— Danville police Officer Pat Bostwick testified he responded to the emergency room of what is now OSF Sacred Heart Medical Center, where he spoke to Davieon Harper in the lobby and observed Mr. Shutes being brought in on a gurney.

Under questioning by Hollinshead, Bostwick described Davieon Harper as "very upset." He said he was breathing erratically and sweating profusely. He said he then took Davieon Harper to the public safety building for questioning.

— Danville police Sgt. Eric Kizer also testified to seeing Davieon Harper at the ER.

"He was sweating profusely. ... It looked like he was going to pass out," Kizer told Bookhout.

Kizer said he observed Davieon Harper driving his car to the ER and Mr. Shutes inside the vehicle. He also noticed blood and human tissue inside the car in the back passenger seat area and that the vehicle had a broken window.

Kizer said he collected the victim's cellphone and wallet at the ER as well as evidence at the park, including pieces of broken glass, part of a Newport Light cigarette, a green and black backpack, a .22-caliber revolver retrieved on the roof of a shed by the park and unused bullets taken from the gun. He also collected a white towel that was found in the parking lot.

"Underneath the towel was what looked like brain matter and pieces of skull," he said.

Kizer said he also collected evidence from Mr. Shutes' autopsy, including a DNA swab, a metal projectile taken from the back of his skull and the black zip-up hoodie the victim was wearing. He said all of the evidence was put in the evidence locker at the PSB.

— Former Officer Dennis Rogers testified he took photographs of the crime scene at the park, Mr. Shutes' body at the ER and the vehicle outside the ER. While photographing the crime scene, he said he was notified that a firearm was thrown on the roof of a machine shed near the park. He said he climbed up on the roof and located a .22-caliber firearm.

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