Longstanding beef sparked '07 killing
Murder trial begins in car-chase shooting

LAWRENCEVILLE - Two and a half years later, nobody can agree on exactly what started the fight that prompted the car chase, which led to the car-to-car shooting death of Dacula teen Jimmy "Lee" West.

General consensus holds that the impetus was childish and stupid, far beyond boys being boys, prosecutors say.

In question this week is the part that Dacula's Keith Owens Jr. played in the death of West, a 19-year-old father of two who was engaged.

West was driving his fiance's Dodge Neon, her in the passenger seat, on Feb. 5 during a harrowing car chase through Dacula when his pursuers fired several shots into the vehicle, striking him in the head. He died six days later at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta.

Facing life in prison, Owens is charged with murder, aggravated assault and weapons possession in the trial that opened Wednesday. Prosecutors say Owens was in the Honda Civic chasing West, carrying a handgun he later pawned off to his girlfriend.

Owens' defense contends he had nothing to do with the ongoing beef between several Dacula High School graduates.

"This case is about a stupid fight that escalated to the point that three men decided they'd settle it with guns," said Assistant District Attorney Nigel Lush during opening statements.

Owens' co-defendants - Marco Mcilwain and Joey Smith - are serving prison terms in connection with the slaying. Smith drove the Honda Civic while Mcilwain fired a shotgun, Lush said.

Tempers flared earlier that day when West and a buddy catcalled to Smith and Mcilwain at a defunct Dacula wings shack, Lush said. The duo retrieved a shotgun, picked up Owens and went looking for West, he said.

Mcilwain was found guilty of felony murder in March 2008 and sentenced to life in prison plus five years. Smith, meanwhile, cut a deal with prosecutors and pleaded guilty to lesser charges of voluntary manslaughter and aggravated assault.

In exchange, Smith received a relaxed sentence of 20 years, with stipulations he testify in Owens' trial.

Owens was arrested several months after the killing when Smith came forth to prosecutors. The state's case will rely heavily - but not wholly - on his testimony, Lush said.

Witnesses reported seeing three men in the Honda Civic and hearing two different guns fired, Lush said.

Owens' defense attorney, Bruce Harvey, pointed out that a handgun was found beneath the West's car seat after he crashed the Dodge Neon in a yard on Hill Circle. No physical evidence or eyewitness testimony directly links Owens to the shooting, Bruce argued.

"There was a chase, but Keith Owens was not part of it," Bruce said.

Neither attorney made reference to what type of bullet caused the fatal wound. Testimony is expected to resume today.