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The Journal Gazette

  • Figgs

Thursday, August 17, 2017 1:00 am

Girl, 10, takes stand at trial

Testifies she saw defendant running

ROSA SALTER RODRIGUEZ | The Journal Gazette

A prosecution witness Wednesday morning made a surprise statement outside the courtroom that an eyewitness told her who fatally shot her brother, Edword Kiel, minutes after it happened July 6, 2016.

Wednesday afternoon, the mother of that eyewitness also said she'd been told early on that defendant Christopher L. Figgs killed Kiel.

But two Fort Wayne police officers investigating the case testified no one ever told them.

Figgs, 29, stands accused of killing Kiel, 28, who was found in a car crashed into a tree in the 3500 block of McKinnie Avenue. He is standing trial for the second time this year after a previous jury could not reach a verdict. 

Thomasa Hunter, the woman who said she was in the car with Kiel when he was shot and was Figgs' ex-girlfriend, testified Tuesday she didn't see and didn't know who shot Kiel. Her testimony was riddled with incoherent and inaudible statements and claims she didn't recall events or her previous statements.

Wednesday afternoon, Crystal Laster, Kiel's sister, testified that Hunter told her Figgs was the shooter using a cellphone about 1:45 a.m., about the same time as 911 calls reported the car crash.

Laster disclosed that information to Allen County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Jesus “Rick” Trevino in the hallway outside the courtroom just before she was to testify.

The disclosure led defense attorney Michelle Kraus to request a mistrial, which was denied by presiding Allen County Superior Court Judge Fran Gull. The judge gave the defense until 1:30 p.m. to interview witnesses and investigate Laster's remarks. The mistrial request and denial took place outside the jury's earshot.

Under cross examination by Kraus on Wednesday, Laster said she hadn't said anything about Hunter's statement previously – despite speaking to police, meeting with the prosecutor and defense and testifying during Figgs' first trial in February.

Laster said police didn't directly ask her, and Hunter told her she'd told authorities. Authorities revealed Tuesday that Hunter had received threats from Kiel's relatives and linked Laster to some of them in the mistrial discussion. 

Hunter's mother, Regina Hunter, testified her daughter also told her “Chris” was “shooting” the same night the incident unfolded.

Regina Hunter also testified that Thomasa's 9-year-old daughter told her that night she had seen Figgs “running away” near the crash scene down the street from the apartment where Regina Hunter lived with her daughter and her daughter's three children.

But Regina Hunter said she did not tell officers what the child said because the girl's mother didn't know what the girl had told her and was not there and therefore could not consent to having the child questioned.

Two officers testified they were not told who did the shooting, although one, Officer David Tinsley, said he had been called to the home previously for domestic disputes between Thomasa Hunter and Figgs. Tinsley said he began to “develop” Figgs as a suspect in his mind.

Now 10, Tamari Hunter, wearing her hair in a topknot held by a bright pink stretchy headband and clutching a backpack with an emoji design, took the stand and said she was up late watching TV when her mother told her she was “going to the gas station” down the street and would be right back.

Her mother didn't take her cellphone, which was on a charger, and when it went off, Tamari picked it up, saw a picture of Figgs and recognized his voice. She said he asked where her mother was, and she told him her mother was outside.

Shortly afterward, she heard “popping” noises and thought they were fireworks, she said. Her grandmother came downstairs and asked her to go outside to see if Thomasa was in her car parked nearby.

The girl said she did not find her there but saw her mother running up the street from the accident scene and saw Figgs running with something silver and black in his hand. That was identified Tuesday as a gun that fit the description of one owned by Thomasa Hunter.

Figgs is also charged with carrying a handgun without a license and using a firearm in the commission of a crime. The trial continues today.  

At one point, Tamari Hunter was asked to read back her testimony from an earlier trial that she “really didn't know who it was” she saw running “but it looked like (Figgs).” Now she said it was Figgs, but he had his hair cut. 

The little girl also was asked by Kraus what she called Figgs, who is not her biological father. The girl smiled for the first time and said “Dad.”

“Do you love him?” Kraus asked.

“Yes,” said the girl, still smiling. 

rsalter@jg.net