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Testimony begins in slaying trial

LAWRENCEVILLE - Aaron "Little A" Wright was the triggerman in a posse of robbers who canvassed southwestern Gwinnett on Sept. 3, 2005, looking for Hispanic men known to carry large sums of cash, according to prosecutors.

After one successful hit on a man named Hector Lopez - rolling him at random for his wallet and cell phone - the posse drove into the nearby Westwood Apartments on Norcross-Tucker Road in a dark blue minivan around midnight, authorities believe.

Wright is said to have crept from the vehicle with two accomplices, leaving a get-away driver behind. He approached Jose Anibal Nunez-Maldonado, 29, asked him for a cigarette, then pulled a .38 caliber handgun. As Nunez-Maldonado fled, Wright shot him once in the abdomen, knocking the victim on his back between two buildings, said Assistant District Attorney Mike McDaniel.

"As (the victim) lay screaming in agony, they robbed him" of a wallet and two rings, McDaniel said during opening statements in Wright's murder trial Tuesday. The victim died 10 hours later in an area hospital.

Nunez-Maldonado's rings were later pawned. But another stolen item - his debit card - eventually led to his killer's capture, McDaniel said.

Wright, 24, is charged with murder, felony murder, weapons possession and two counts of robbery. Each of his co-defendants - Mario Price and brothers Dwight and Leon Crosdale - have pleaded guilty and are serving prison terms of more than 15 years.

In exchange for relaxed sentences on lesser charges, all three are expected to testify and implicate Wright in the shooting this week, McDaniel said.

Wright's defense attorney, Thomas Clegg, referred to the state's trio of witnesses as "The Three Stooges" and painted them as liars to the jury.

"If you take away their story," Clegg argued, "literally, ladies and gentlemen, (the state) ain't got nothing."

According to McDaniel, Price gave the stolen debit card to a friend named Jamelle Barnes, who got away with using it more than 70 times before he used it in conjunction with his Kroger Plus card, tying him to the fraudulent spree.

Barnes, later booked in DeKalb County, implicated Price, and the arrests were prompted from there, McDaniel said.

"Had they just thrown that wallet in the lake, had they just tossed that check card, they likely wouldn't have been caught," he said.

Clegg said no physical evidence links his client to the crime. A box of .38 caliber bullets found by police in Wright's apartment wasn't missing a single round, he said.

Wright, formerly a Clarkston resident and UPS employee, faces life in prison. Testimony is expected to continue until Friday.

"We have a young man who was simply walking in an apartment complex alone," McDaniel said, "and because of where he was, and because of his nationality, perhaps ... he died an agonizing death."