The day four women were executed inside an apartment at the Fairmont Terrace apartment complex in 2013, one of the victims accused a neighbor of stealing from her, setting a robbery plot in motion, prosecutors maintain.
“It made me real mad. … This b—- trying to accuse me of stealing something.”
I would never steal from her, said Jamila Jones, 24, on the witness stand in the murder trial of James Stanford Poore, 35.
But three years later, Jones couldn’t recall what victim Rebeika Powell accused her of stealing. Nor did she show signs of any residual emotion in recalling the dispute.
Poore and his brother Cedric Dwayne Poore, 42, are charged with first-degree murder in the deaths of Powell, Kayetie Powell Melchor, Julie Jackson and Misty Nunley. The defendants are also charged with armed robbery of Powell and Powell Melchor, 23-year-old twin sisters.
The Tulsa County District Attorney’s Office gave Jones immunity from any prosecution in connection to the crime in exchange for truthful testimony in the Poores’ trials.
A suspicious cigarette butt
Jones began her testimony Monday morning. Court recessed for the day after lunch due to a medical issue Defense Attorney Wes Johnson was experiencing. Johnson sought to continue the trial Tuesday, but District Judge Kurt Glassco elected to postpone testimony until Wednesday in order for Johnson to rest.
Jones had stated under cross examination that a key piece of evidence — a cigarette butt extinguished directly on the surface of the nightstand next to Powell’s bed — was there before the homicides when she visited the apartment to ask Powell for a cigarette.
Powell’s mother, Charon Powell, previously told The Frontier the butt was immediately suspicious to her when District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler met with her last year to show her the crime scene photos in preparation for the jury trials. She asked then whether the butt was tested for DNA, but it apparently wasn’t until sometime within the last few months, according to Johnson’s statements to the jury.
Kunzweiler told Powell that DNA recovered from the butt was matched to James Poore, she said. The district attorney routinely declines to discuss DNA evidence with reporters while criminal cases are still outstanding.
Jones was presented a photo of the nightstand by Kunzweiler and she identified 1-inch plastic bags used for packaging drugs as items she remembered seeing there before the homicides. Johnson later handed her the same photo, again confirmed the presence of the bags and asked whether the cigarette butt was there when she visited that morning. to which she responded yes.
However, Jones’ testimony was inconsistent throughout the proceeding and contradicted transcripts of what she told a grand jury in February 2013 and at the Poores’ preliminary hearing several months later. Johnson was quick to point out the discrepancies, and Judge Glassco admonished Jones to consider the questions carefully before answering and to tell Johnson if she didn’t understand his queries.
In response to Johnson’s cross examination, Kunzweiler attempted to clarify Jones’ answers on Wednesday. He asked her whether she became “tired of (Johnson’s) questions” before Monday’s recess and she told him yes.
He then asked whether she ever mentioned the cigarette butt previously and whether she actually recalled seeing it that morning. She answered no.
“I was getting confused by all the questions,” Jones said.
Kunzweiler and Johnson both made reference to the cigarette butt in their opening arguments. A Tulsa police crime scene analyst testified ashes seen around the butt in photos indicated to him that it had been recently smoked. He also said no other surface in the apartment showed signs that cigarettes had been extinguished directly on the furniture.
The nightstand was within a few feet of where a pile of things, including the contents of a purse, had been dumped, which police testified appeared to be further evidence of the alleged robbery.
An unhappy defendant
Both Jones and the defendant referred to one or more of the victims as “friends” of theirs.
James Poore did so after jurors recessed March 3 while expressing concern about Johnson’s competence to Glassco.
He cried as he told the judge: “I honestly didn’t expect to get a fair trial, (but) I don’t have confidence in my counsel.”
James Poore was active in his defense and frequently took notes on the testimony given.
“We’re being laughed at,” he told Glassco.
Johnson had technical difficulties with his laptop and stumbled over a cord early in the trial.
“We’ve had some differences of opinion,” Johnson acknowledged.
However, he’s done what he believes is in his client’s best interest, he told the judge.
Glassco emphasized to Poore the importance of having a trained legal professional represent to him and advised he retain Johnson. Poore elected to do so and thanked the court.
Poore again asked to address the court Wednesday morning. Johnson said his client wanted to voluntarily waive his appearance for the remainder of the trial.
When questioned by Glassco, Poore again expressed his dissatisfaction with Johnson.
“My counsel went back (and) instead of refuting (the state) basically tried to reinforce their questions,” he said of Johnson’s second cross examination of Jones.
Echoing his prior advice to Poore, Glassco told him he’s not guaranteed a perfect trial but is receiving a fair one. He also advised him that not remaining present for the rest of the trial could hinder his appeal options later.
Poore reluctantly decided to stay but appeared disengaged for the rest of the morning. He did not take notes or confer with his attorney about the witnesses’ testimony.
Wednesday was the fourth day of testimony.
The state presented Burks evidence, or evidence of a separate crime, against Poore for the limited purpose of identifying him as one of the alleged assailants in an armed robbery and shooting two days before the homicides. Burks evidence is not to be used as proof of a defendant’s guilt or innocence.
The victim, a witness and a Tulsa police officer testified about that crime Wednesday afternoon. That victim identified James Poore as the man who shot her in her knee after demanding her purse when she pulled into an apartment complex parking lot near 71st Street and Mingo Road.
Johnson’s questions of the witnesses centered on whether the ambient lighting in the parking lot would have been bright enough for the victim to see Poore’s face despite the hood she said he was wearing.
Six other police witnesses, including the responding officer, crime scene and homicide detectives have testified about their findings at the scene and what they found while serving search warrants at James and Cedric Poore’s mother’s home, where Cedric had apparently been living, and Jones’ apartment.
Three occupants of Jones’ apartment the night before and day of the homicide were called. They testified to Cedric Poore arriving at Jones’ apartment, having a short conversation with his brother, the two of them leaving and then coming back a short time later.
James and Cedric Poore were “acting normal, like they were just going to the store or something” when they left Jones’ apartment, said one witness who was 16 at the time.
Two of the occupants restated previous testimony that James Poore threatened that they “knew what he was capable of” when he returned and that if he was suspected in the homicides he would know someone from Jones’ apartment was to blame.
Kunzweiler referenced in his opening statement that Poore’s own family would speak against him about confessions he made to them within 10 days of the homicides.
Casey Poore, Cedric’s wife, recalled a conversation she had with James when they rode together to the Tulsa Jail on Jan. 17 to visit Cedric. She testified he robbed the victims and shot them “twice to make sure they were dead.”
Cedric’s daughter also testified he told her not to be scared to return to Fairmont Terrace in the days following the homicides because he was the one who killed the women.
In another of many emotional moments in the trial, the sister-in-law’s eyes welled with tears as she told Johnson she didn’t pay much attention to James’ statements because she was excited to see her husband.
Another Fairmont Terrace resident who found the victims also cried as she testified Friday. She saw Powell’s 3-year-old son outside alone after overhearing Powell arguing with someone when the witness called Powell minutes before the homicides.
She choked up when Assistant District Attorney Julie Doss handed her photos of the crime scene and Tallynn. During an attorney sidebar that followed, the woman leaned back in her chair on the witness stand, tilted her head up and covered her eyes with her arm.
“I’ll never forget that day,” she told Johnson firmly during cross examination.
A jury of eight women and six men, two of whom are alternates, are hearing the case.
Kunzweiler and Glassco have repeatedly voiced their goal to conclude the trial this week. However, it remains unclear whether that will be possible given the time lost Monday afternoon and Tuesday.