GREENFIELD — No one argues Shannon Kitchens died on the afternoon of March 1. They agree the man was fatally shot and his body dumped along a rural road. They admit the 55-year-old McCordsville native was with a friend that day, doing drugs and searching for more.
But attorneys representing the man accused of pulling the trigger say there are two keys pieces of evidence prosecutors won’t be able to present at trial this week: a gun or a bullet.
As the trial against Damian Coleman began Tuesday in Hancock Circuit Court, prosecutors told the 12-member jury it was Coleman who robbed and murdered Kitchens during a drug deal last spring, while Coleman’s defense attorneys promised to prove Coleman was framed.
Investigators believe Kitchens was shot while trying to buy cocaine from Coleman, according to court documents. Kitchens’ body was left along a rural road in McCordsville after he died; a passerby discovered his body later that day.
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Coleman faces two counts of murder in the slaying; a Level 3 felony count of attempt to commit robbery while armed; a Level 3 felony count of attempt to deal cocaine; and a Level 3 felony count of conspiracy to deal cocaine.
Attorneys spent the first morning of Coleman’s trial whittling down a group of about 50 county residents to 12 jurors who will hear the public proceedings, which are expected to last through this week and carry into the next.
In the afternoon, the state called its key witness, Shawn Hammons, Coleman’s co-defendant, to the stand. Hammons, a friend of Kitchens’, recently accepted a plea deal in his case, telling police he was with Kitchens when he died; he also admitted to dumping the man’s body in the 3300 block of West County Road 500N.
But it was Coleman who killed him, he said in court Tuesday.
Hammons of Pendleton told jurors he and Kitchens met Coleman on March 1 outside a Check ‘n Go in Lawrence, where Kitchens had just cashed a $14,000 disability check.
Hammons told police after Kitchens had cashed the check, he returned to Hammons’ car and sat into the front passenger seat; Coleman climbed in the backseat, court documents state.
Hammons said Coleman pulled a gun, there was a scuffle, and Kitchens was shot.
But Hammons’ lengthy story came only after Coleman’s defense attorney attempted to sow seeds of doubt in the minds of jurors.
Attorney Randy Sorrell of Fortville, who represents Coleman, told jurors during his opening statement Tuesday that his client did meet Kitchens and Hammons in Lawrence — but both men were alive after that meeting and went their separate ways, he said.
Sorrell also commented that a woman, who is expected to testify later in the trial, told police she saw two white males standing along County Road 500N around the time police believe Kitchens was shot. Coleman is black.
Hammons was the only witness to testify Tuesday, taking the stand for nearly four hours. He detailed the events of March 1, saying he watched the life leave Kitchens’ eyes and left his friend’s body on the side of the road after he panicked.
It was Kitchens, Hammons said, who threw the murder weapon from the car during the struggle.
Hammons testified that, after Coleman pulled the gun and demanded Kitchens hand over his money, Kitchens grabbed the pistol in an attempt to protect himself. The shot was fired by Coleman, and Kitchens — an expression of shock spreading across his face — flung the gun from the car. Coleman then got out of the car.
“I watched him die,” Hammons said, his voice cracking. “He tensed up and died right in front of me.”
In a panic, Hammons sped away from the Check ‘n Go parking lot and toward Hancock County, he said. High on drugs and afraid, he decided to dump Kitchens’ body, he told jurors. He stopped along an unfamiliar rural road and pulled his friend’s lifeless form through the passenger window — a decision he still regrets.
“I’ll live with that for the rest of my life,” he said. “It’s the worst thing I’ve ever done.”