LAWRENCEVILLE — With violence reminiscent of a Cormac McCarthy novel, the 1800 building of the Sinclair Apartments was riddled with waves of bullets, leaving an apartment smudged with blood and portions of one man’s face, according to testimony.
That man, Pedro Ortiz-Gonzalezz, died a couple of days later. Stone Mountain resident and admitted drug purchaser Tommy Griffin is on trial for killing him, but his defense argues that isn’t true and can’t be proven.
Testimony opened Tuesday in Griffin’s murder trial with prosecutors painting a picture of a harrowing gunbattle at the complex near Norcross the evening of April 8 last year.
The apartment fronted as a drug house and was occupied by several Hispanic males, including Ortiz-Gonzalezz and Fredrico Espinal, who was shot in the foot and found by police in nearby woods, said Assistant District Attorney Leanne Chancey.
Both sides agree Griffin, dressed casually Tuesday in a white golf shirt and slacks, was accompanied by a man known only as “True” who hasn’t been located.
Bullets plugged the couch of a man watching television in an apartment across the breezeway, while a woman downstairs heard gunshots “kind of like fireworks” and hunkered down. Both broke their leases and moved out, Chancey said.
Griffin admitted in taped interviews to being at the home with $4,000, ready to purchase drugs. Prosecutors believe the drug at issue was thousands of dollars worth of cocaine; Griffin’s defense posits it was a pound of marijuana.
Along with two counts of felony murder, Griffin is charged with conspiring to traffic cocaine and commit arm robbery and possessing weapons during the commission of a felony.
Defense attorney Charlie Wrinkle painted his client as an orphan whose cocaine-addicted mother died at a young age, and who survived the hardscrabble streets of Cleveland and moved to Atlanta with his wife and son at the promise of a job maintaining HUD houses.
Griffin met “True” waiting for the bus one day and offered him work cleaning houses, and it was the latter’s idea to buy marijuana from some “amigos,” which led the pair to Norcross, Wrinkle said.
After a disagreement about seeing the drugs, Wrinkle said his client was ambushed by a rifle-toting man who sprung from a back closet, spraying the room and hitting all three injured men.
The injury that killed Ortiz-Gonzalezz was “terribly disfiguring” and after about three days, he was declared brain dead, Wrinkle said.
Both sides agree the bullets that struck Ortiz-Gonzalezz and Griffin were fired from the rifle, and were headed out the front door. Bullets from the handgun were fired in the opposite direction.
Wrinkle said prosecutors can’t put the murder weapon in his client’s hands.
“Tommy (Griffin) did not shoot this guy,” he told the heavily male jury panel.
Fully recovered, Griffin was arrested two months after the shooting but wasn’t charged with murder until a later indictment. Financial issues have forced his wife to recently uproot back to Cleveland, Wrinkle said.
Crime scene footage aired for jurors showed the sparsely decorated apartment dotted with dozens of shell casings and splotches of blood, its door riddled with holes. It appeared vacant, save for a mattress in a bedroom.
Gwinnett police Sgt. K. Llewellyn, first to arrive on scene, testified she found no evidence of cocaine among the carnage, though she did note human flesh, skin and teeth in the living room.
Chancey said there’s no evidence the Hispanic drug dealers were connected to cartels. Espinal, shot in the foot, and one other suspect were arrested. Prosecutors believe the others fled the country.
Testimony is expected to resume today and conclude by Friday.