LAWRENCEVILLE - On the night of April 23, 2004, Melody Harrell joined her boyfriend, Larry Bowling, and a few chums for what was supposed to be a night of ballyhoo.
To celebrate Bowling's 30th birthday, they picked a Buford karoake joint called The Hideaway. For his own personal celebrations, Bowling chose straight tequila shots, one after the other, according to testimony.
For workers at the defunct bar, the group's celebratory vibes were marred by a sense of uneasiness.
"(Harrell) was crying at one point, was very nervous, appeared to be very scared," a former Hideaway bartender, Shawn Ashby, testified Wednesday. At one point, another customer tried to console her, but "she jerked back in fear and said, 'Please, don't touch me,'" Ashby said.
In less than six hours, the 20-year-old would be shot in the face - an injury serious enough that her mother allowed doctors to pull her off life support the following day.
Accused of firing that shot is Bowling, 35, whose murder trial began Wednesday in Superior Court.
Ashby said Bowling was kicked out of The Hideaway that night, becoming so belligerent that police were called in. He talked with police but was not arrested.
Later, about 2:40 a.m., Harrell was driving a Ford Aerostar van down Bona Road in Buford with Bowling in the passenger seat. He allegedly fired a gun, striking Harrell above her left eyebrow. The van veered off the road and slammed into the corner of a house.
During opening statements, Bowling's defense attorney, Lyle Porter, maintained what his client told police - that the gun discharged accidentally.
Prosecutors believe Bowling intentionally killed his girlfriend following their earlier tiff at the bar. Bowling was initially charged with aggravated battery, but those charges were upgraded to murder about two weeks after her death.
In other testimony, a Gwinnett Medical Center doctor said Bowling tested positive for cocaine, marijuana, opiates and other drugs the night of the shooting. His blood alcohol content by the time he reached the hospital was .14, nearly twice the driving limit.
His shoulder was dislocated in the crash, and he received a contusion to his head, the doctor testified.
The victim's older sister, Misty Harrell, testified that her sister "more less played mommy" to Bowling's two children from a previous relationship, often driving to pick them up in South Carolina.
Doctors were surprised, given the severity of the head wound, that Melody Harrell even lasted a day, her sister testified.
"They told us she had no chance of recovery," she said, fighting tears. "If she did, she'd be in a vegetative state the rest of her life."