Testimony paints grisly picture of '06 murder

LAWRENCEVILLE - A man who claims he was in Adler Jerry Benoit's Ford Taurus when he was shot to death admitted Tuesday he is schizophrenic and has seen "angels," "demons" and "the light of God."

Jelania Simon told a Gwinnett Superior Court jury Tuesday the killing has haunted him since Benoit was murdered in the parking lot of a Snellville McDonald's on Sept. 7, 2006.

Simon joined a slate of witnesses called by Assistant District Attorney Richard Vandever in the opening day of 19-year-old Sabon Allen Julius' murder trial. The Snellville teen is charged with killing Benoit, 20, of Jonesboro, in an apparent drug deal gone awry.

Julius, dressed in a blue-striped dress shirt and khakis, wearing a pencil-thin beard and goatee, sat quietly in the nearly empty courtroom.

Simon, the witness, told jurors he was in Benoit's vehicle with a man he called "Chris Brooks," and both fled the scene after Benoit was shot. Simon said they ran to another person's car and left the area.

Mike McDaniels, Julius' defense attorney, argued that Simon's mental state at the time of the shooting is relevant to the case. Simon said he was heavily medicated at the time of the murder and later lied to investigators about what had happened.

Julius faces charges of murder, felony murder, aggravated assault and two counts of possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime. His trial is expected to conclude by Friday.

Gwinnett police crime scene supervisor Ellen Nicholson said Benoit died from a single gunshot wound to his head. Police found a .357 revolver and a sawed-off shotgun in Benoit's four-door Ford Taurus. Nicholson said police also discovered a .380 caliber shell casing in the vehicle but no gun to match.

At the time of his death, police said Benoit was shot as he drove through the parking lot of a McDonald's restaurant at Ga. Highway 124 and Centerville-Rosebud Road. He apparently stomped on his gas pedal and tore through bushes at the restaurant, a Huddle House parking lot next door and through more shrubs at a nearby Goodyear tires store parking lot, where the vehicle hit a garage and stopped, police said.

Benoit was pronounced dead at the scene.

Witnesses told police two young black men jumped out of the Ford Taurus and ran.

An employee of a Texaco Station located near the crime scene also testified Tuesday. He said he saw five or six black men arrive at his station in at least three cars and begin arguing on the night of the shooting. The men left the premises toward the McDonald's, the man said.

Zachary Smith, a McDonald's employee, told jurors he saw two black men in white shirts hustle by the restaurant before closing time at 10:30 p.m. The men knocked on the window of an unidentified car "as if giving a signal," then left in a dark-green Acura, Smith testified.

Julius was arrested in the early morning hours of Sept. 9, 2006. He has remained in the Gwinnett County Jail since without bond.