A defendant who is on trial for a fatal shooting that police believe was over inflammatory social media posts told investigators he did not kill the victim, even though he said he had every reason to do so.
Jabari Mitchell, 26, had arranged in November 2016 to meet up and fight his ex-girlfriend’s brother, Trelin Reed. When there were too many people hanging around at the North Austin Luby’s where they had agreed to meet, they pivoted to a Wendy’s. And then to a Shell gas station.
At yet another location — a Mobil gas station at the intersection of Interstate 35 and East St. Johns Avenue — Reed was ambushed with gunfire while sitting in a Ford Explorer. The killer was positioned behind a privacy fence and fired 25 times through a missing plank, police say. Reed was hit 13 times and was taken to a hospital where he was pronounced dead.
In closing arguments Tuesday, Mitchell’s lawyer said police became too focused on the feud between the men and dismissed the possibility that Reed might have been killed by someone else. The list of possible suspects who were never vetted includes a person in Wells Branch who, text messages show, Reed had boasted about robbing earlier in the day, defense attorney Amber Vazquez said.
“There were a lot of people who had motive and opportunity,” she told the jury.
The men and women weighing a murder charge against Mitchell deliberated for more than four hours Tuesday. If they return a guilty verdict, they can impose a sentence of five to 99 years in prison. Mitchell also faces two related counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon for gunshot injuries sustained by two others who were with Reed in the Explorer.
Attorneys for the defense and the prosecution agreed Mitchell and Reed were both involved in drug dealing and other criminal activity. The area is a magnet for police calls, according to testimony from an officer who said he is called to the convenience store where the shooting took place more than once every shift.
The underlying feud that detectives say led to the shooting was related to a nasty break-up between Mitchell and Reed’s sister. Retaliating to allegations that Reed’s sister slashed his tires, Mitchell posted a video on Facebook showing her performing a sexual act on him. She responded with a lewd video of her own that showed Mitchell performing a sexual act on her. At some point, their mothers got involved and quarreled.
On the day of the shooting, Mitchell had accused Reed’s sister of damaging his car once more, prompting the move to arrange a fight. However, prosecutor Michelle Hallee said Mitchell was never prepared to fight and decided to “lie and wait until the car got there and shoot it up.”
A second prosecutor, Jeremy Sylestine, called Mitchell’s intentions “highly calculated.”
Sylestine agreed with the defense that the investigation that led to Mitchell’s arrest was quick, but he attributed it to the many signs that pointed to him as the shooter. Records from cellphone towers show he was in the area of the convenience store at the time of the shooting, contradicting a statement he made to police about being elsewhere with a friend. Mitchell also told police he did not have a gun, but prosecutors think that was a lie based on a video that showed Mitchell holding a firearm that is consistent with the AR-15 rifle police say was used to kill Reed.
Within moments of the attack, surveillance video captured Mitchell and a friend getting a drink nearby at Texas Land & Cattle. Sylestine said Mitchell purposefully stared into the camera to create a false alibi.