Murder defendant claims self-defense in killing
After the state rested its case Thursday morning, 27-year-old Miquail Q. Crumbley decided to take th...
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After the state rested its case Thursday morning, 27-year-old Miquail Q. Crumbley decided to take the stand in his own defense.
Crumbley is on trial for first-degree murder and possession of a firearm by a felon in 32-year-old Arsenio K. Gaskins’ October 2019 killing.
Gaskins was killed near the 1500 block of Cargill Avenue, which is off Ward Boulevard. But the incident that led to the shooting began in the parking lot of what was known as Players Choice, an electronic sweepstakes business, on Oct. 5, 2019.
Prosecutors say Gaskins was in the Players Choice parking lot speaking to a woman and then to Crumbley’s sister, who was in a car. Crumbley pulled into the lot where Gaskins stood. Prosecutors say Crumbley got out of his car and he and Gaskins exchanged words.
Jeremy Barnes, who was in the vehicle with Crumbley, retrieved a gun from the car and placed it in his waistband. Barnes approached Gaskins, and he in return punched Barnes, causing him to fall to the ground, according to prosecutors and state witness testimony.
Gaskins entered and left the sweepstakes business. Patrons and employees came outside to see what was going on. Gaskins and Crumbley exchanged more words, according to court testimony, then Gaskins left the scene and Crumbley followed him with a gun.
Prosecutors say Crumbley chased Gaskins through the parking lot and shot and killed him.
Witnesses testified that Barnes returned the gun to the vehicle after the confrontation.
Prosecutors and witnesses have said Gaskins didn’t have a weapon, but Crumbley did, and he retrieved a handgun from his car and chased Gaskins from the sweepstakes business to an area nearby where he was shot and killed.
During his opening statement, defense attorney Tom Sallenger said his client acted in self-defense, contending that Gaskins was the instigator. Not only did Crumbley fear for his life, Sallenger said, but so did Crumbley’s sister and Barnes, who Gaskins punched prior to the shooting.
Crumbley testified that he had no problems with Gaskins. When he pulled into the parking lot beside his sister’s car, he got out. He said the next thing he knew, Gaskins punched Barnes. He said he didn’t know what was going on.
He testified that when he went to ask Gaskins what had happened, Gaskins went back inside the sweepstakes center. He said he helped Barnes, his cousin, stand up after the punch. Crumbley said his cousin was crying.
When he looked up after attending to Barnes, Crumbley said he saw a crowd of people outside, none of whom he knew, and he felt threatened.
“They came straight to us,” he testified.
Crumbley said he was nervous because some people went to their cars and came back. He didn’t know whether anyone had a gun. He said that’s when his sister grabbed the tire jack out of her car.
“I was scared,” he said. “I was terrified.”
Crumbley, a convicted felon who isn’t allowed to own or carry firearms, said he saw the crowd advancing and retrieved the gun that Barnes had placed in the car.
“I just had it by my side to protect myself and my family,” he said.
Crumbley said he feared Gaskins would harm him like he did Barnes. Crumbley claimed Gaskins charged him.
During his testimony, Crumbley said he followed Gaskins through the parking lot because he thought Gaskins was going to get a gun.
“I didn’t want to be ambushed,” he said, adding that there was one way in and one way out of the parking lot.
Crumbley claimed Gaskins stopped, turned around and said, “I got you now.”
Crumbley said Gaskins struck him with an object and reached for his gun.
“It’s a life or death situation,” Crumbley said. “It all happened so fast.”
“Did you pull the trigger on that gun?” Sallenger asked his client.
“I had to,” Crumbley replied. “I wouldn’t be here right now.”
When Assistant District Attorney Joel Stadiem cross-examined Crumbley, he said he wasn’t buying his account.
Stadiem pointed out that when the men first arrived and got out of the vehicle, Barnes approached Gaskins, who was trying to back away. He said as Barnes inched closer, Gaskins continued to back up. But he then punched Barnes.
Nothing prevented Crumbley from leaving, Stadiem said, and Gaskins never had a weapon. By the time Crumbley retrieved the gun, Stadiem said, Gaskins was fleeing.
“He ran from you, fled the parking lot,” Stadiem said. “You ran after Arsenio.”
“I went behind him,” Crumbley said.
If Crumbley was afraid and trying to protect his relatives, Stadiem asked, why did he leave them behind to run after Gaskins?
“You had a weapon to protect yourself, and you left your family behind?” Stadiem questioned.
“You’re chasing a man with no gun who is running away from you,” the prosecutor continued. “You had a gun in your hand. He did not have a gun.”
Crumbley repeated that he thought Gaskins was going to get a gun.
Stadiem wasn’t buying Crumbley’s testimony about the struggle for the gun either.
“Didn’t you shoot him in the back?” Stadiem asked.
Crumbley claimed it was dark outside.
Highlights from witness testimony earlier this week include the following:
• Players Choice employee James “Bear” Hinnant testified that once Gaskins saw the Crumbley with the gun, he ran, and then Crumbley ran after him.
“I saw the defendant take the first shot,” Hinnant said on the witness stand Tuesday, adding that from his viewpoint, he couldn’t see Gaskins get hit due to a privacy fence, but he saw Crumbley fire the gun.
Hinnant said that’s when he jumped in his truck and drove closer to the area.
“We all fought to save him,” Hinnant said.
Sallenger pressed Hinnant on his testimony, and a fiery exchange ensued.
Sallenger said surveillance video didn’t corroborate what Hinnant said he witnessed. Sallenger also questioned whether Hinnant saw his client fire the gun.
Previously, Sallenger said Gaskins was taunting Crumbley.
“I’m from the streets,” Hinnant told Sallenger. “I’ve lived the street life. This man was running for his life.”
Hinnant said Gaskins was going in every direction he could to get away from Crumbley. Hinnant also said Gaskins wasn’t armed.
“If you behind the barrel of a gun, you don’t stay to fight no gun,” Hinnant said. “Ain’t nobody win to a gun.”
Hinnant and other witnesses said Gaskins was still alive when they reached him.
“He was breathing,” Hinnant said, adding that Gaskins was mumbling that he was OK until he took his last breath.
• Another Players Choice employee, Calvin Melton, said when Gaskins came back inside the business after the altercation with Barnes, he told people inside that some men in the parking lot had confronted him.
Gaskins departed the business and saw a commotion. Melton said he saw Crumbley with a gun. That’s when Melton told the crowd, “He’s got a gun.”
People in the parking lot scattered. Melton said once Gaskins saw the gun, he threw up his hands and backed away from Crumbley, who was following Gaskins. That’s when Gaskins took off running.
“He was trying to get away from the guy with the gun,” Melton said. “He was after one person — Arsenio.”
Melton also said Gaskins wasn’t armed. He pointed out that no one could gain entry to the sweepstakes center with a weapon due to security checks.
• Rashonda Kearney, Crumbley’s sister, testified that after Gaskins punched Barnes, she feared not only for herself, but for Crumbley as well as Barnes. That’s why she popped her trunk and retrieved a small tire jack when people from Players Choice began pouring into the parking lot.
• Barnes, who was initially charged with first-degree murder, testified Wednesday that when he placed the gun in his waistband, he didn’t want to harm Gaskins.
After Gaskins punched him, Barnes said he returned the gun to the car and Crumbley retrieved it when the situation escalated.
Stadiem asked Barnes why he and Crumbley didn’t leave after he was punched.
Barnes said they were waiting on everyone to clear out. Stadiem said nothing prevented them from leaving.
Barnes said he never saw Gaskins with a weapon and Crumbley was following Gaskins’ path.
In exchange for his testimony, Barnes was offered a plea agreement and pleaded guilty to acting as an accessory after the fact of murder, which could carry roughly six to eight years in prison.
Under cross-examination, Sallenger pressed Barnes about the initial altercation. Barnes said he didn’t know Gaskins. Sallenger continued to press Barnes, asking if Gaskins was seeing the mother of his child. Barnes said that wasn’t true.
Sallenger asked whether the relationship was the reason Barnes confronted Gaskins. Barnes said no.
Sallenger asked Barnes if he thought it was odd that Gaskins hit him dead in the face so hard it knocked him to the ground without any reason.
“Doesn’t that sound strange to you?” Sallenger asked.
“It was shocking,” Barnes replied.
At one point, Barnes briefly mentioned that when he and Crumbley pulled into the Players Choice parking lot, they nearly hit Gaskins with the vehicle. But it wasn’t intentional.
Barnes testified that after Gaskins punched him, he placed the gun on the driver’s side floorboard of Crumbley’s car.
While Barnes didn’t witness the shooting, he did drive the getaway vehicle. Crumbley was seen getting in the car after the altercation.
• During his oepning statement, Sallenger framed the killing as a case of self-defense, saying his client feared for his life. He told the court that Crumbley didn’t know Gaskins, but Barnes did.
Sallenger said Crumbley was near the parked cars minding his own business after Gaskins punched Barnes and went inside the sweepstakes center.
Gaskins approached Crumbley, Sallenger said, claiming Gaskins was the aggressor.
Sallenger said Gaskins tried to get the gun from Crumbley and his client believed Gaskins was going to kill him. The men struggled and the gun went off.
Surveillance camera footage didn’t capture the fatal encounter between Crumbley and Gaskins due to their distance from the sweepstakes business.
• The state illustrated its testimony by showing jurors footage from the Players Choice surveillance camera. The video shows Crumbley with a handgun and Gaskins following him, then backing up once Crumbley displayed the gun. He then began to run, with Crumbley following behind.
• A state medical examiner testified that Gaskins was shot on the right side of his back and the bullet exited through his chest. Gaskins died as a result of a gunshot wound to the torso.
• Wilson Police Department forensic analyst Kim Kennedy testified Wednesday that she recovered seven .40-caliber cartridges and a cellphone from the scene. Jurors were able to see those cartridges as well as the bloody undershirt Gaskins was wearing. That shirt has a hole showing where the bullet entered and exited.
• The gun that killed Gaskins was never recovered.
• Crumbley, his sister and others had been drinking alcohol prior to the shooting, according to court testimony. Under Sallenger’s cross-examination, the medical examiner said Gaskins’ blood alcohol level was 0.18, more than double the legal driving limit of 0.08.
Wilson County Superior Court Judge Lamont Wiggins is presiding over the trial.
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