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Testimony puts gun in suspect's hand

LAWRENCEVILLE - A key witness for prosecutors testified Friday that Keith Owens Jr. fired a handgun about five times during a high-speed car chase through Dacula that ended in Jimmy "Lee" West's death.

Joey Smith - a friend of Owens who's serving 20 years in prison for driving his Honda in pursuit of the victim and his fiance - said Owens fired a revolver from the passenger seat, while their mutual friend, Marco Mcilwain, blasted a shotgun from the backseat. About seven shots were fired, Smith testified.

"I didn't think they were going to shoot like that," Smith said. "I didn't know they would open fire."

Owens was arrested several months after the killing when Smith implicated him in talks with authorities.

Smith struck a deal with prosecutors that stipulated he must testify, sparing him a potential life sentence. Dressed in green jail garb, his right arm sleeved in tattoos, he stared at Owens as he left the courtroom Friday, eliciting no response from the defendant.

West, a 19-year-old father of two, was shot in the head and crashed the Dodge Neon he was attempting to flee in during the Feb. 5, 2007, clash. Prosecutors say a longstanding grudge between the men triggered West's murder.

Mcilwain was convicted and sentenced to life in prison last year for his role in West's killing.

Owens, the last co-defendant to be tried, also faces life in prison. He's charged with murder, aggravated assault and weapons possession.

Smith testified that he and Mcilwain had confronted the victim before, primarily because West had called Mcilwain's cell phone and made threats.

The day of West's killing, the men had barked "empty threats" at each other at a Dacula restaurant, but Smith and Mcilwain balked at fighting the victim and another man. Instead, they retrieved a shotgun and, later, Owens, testified Smith.

"I asked (Mcilwain) what he had the gun for," Smith said. "He said, 'We're (fixing) to go back over there and scare 'em up.'"

Witnesses reported seeing three men in the Honda and hearing two different guns fired, said Assistant District Attorney Nigel Lush.

Smith testified he cooperated with authorities only when he "learned that Marco had come forward and was trying to make it look like I did everything," he said.

Owens' defense attorney, Bruce Harvey, argues that no physical evidence or eyewitness testimony directly links Owens to the shooting, other than what Smith says is the truth.

Lush said testimony will conclude Tuesday.