Details of drug gunbattle emerge in court

Haile Lewis

Haile Lewis

LAWRENCEVILLE -- Haile Lewis and pal Trenton Jones came to a Buford home on Ivy Crest Drive under the auspices they would sell the two occupants high-grade "purple cush" marijuana Jan. 31. Only two men would leave the property alive. Testimony on Wednesday could illustrate that Lewis and Jones had more sinister intentions all along.

The alleged buyers, Daniel Turpin and longtime friend Justin Kendall, smoked a sample of Lewis's offerings that afternoon but weren't impressed. So Lewis retrieved a briefcase from his trunk, along with Jones, and in minutes guns were drawn and waves of bullets flew, a detective testified in Lewis's probable cause hearing Wednesday.

Police would arrive to find Jones dead in the kitchen, a semi-automatic handgun beside him. The alleged broker, Turpin, was also dead, lying face down on steps leading to the back deck. Kendall, shot about four times in his back, neck and arm, had jumped down 25 feet from the deck and went beating on neighbors' doors for help, Gwinnett police detective Cpl. Dennis Hennelly testified.

A week later, police are awaiting tests to determine exactly who shot whom in the firefight, while Lewis is the lone murder suspect. Kendall, who is expected to recover, admitted to police he shot Jones multiple times, but only after Jones shot him first.

Hennelly testified that four handguns were found throughout the residence, and all had been fired. All four men involved in the drug deal were 23 years old, he said.

Elsewhere in the home, police found a 17-year-old girl who'd met Turpin and Kendall the previous day. She told police she'd just showered and was applying make-up when a deep voice she didn't recognize called out, "Give me the money." She then saw Turpin, hunched over and groaning, fall off the back deck. Like neighbors, she called 911, Hennelly testified.

Lewis later showed up at Atlanta's Grady Memorial Hospital with his girlfriend, seeking medical treatment for up to five gunshot wounds, including a shot to his buttocks that his attorney claimed indicates he was retreating. He spoke briefly with detectives about prior drug deals with Turpin before requesting an attorney. Hennelly testified Lewis carried about $800 and a small amount of marijuana into the hospital.

Friends interviewed by detectives described Turpin as a skilled pool player and gambler who was known to pay cash on the spot for large quantities of marijuana. He'd been living in the home with Kendall, a friend of more than a decade, Hennelly testified.

Turpin died from a shot to his elbow area that penetrated his heart.

In court, Lewis donned a green jumpsuit, his bandaged right arm in a sling and his left arm dotted in tattoos. In the gallery Turpin's supporters memorialized him with white T-shirts brandishing his photo and "R.I.P."

Defense attorney Richard Stepp argued that all charges should be thrown out because they largely hinge on the statements of Kendall, whose character Stepp called into question.

"Sounds like 90 percent of the case is built upon the veracity of Mr. Kendall, who's knee-deep in a drug deal," Stepp said.

Countered Frank Clark, assistant district attorney: "Everything that Kendall told us that can be corroborated has," he told Magistrate Court Judge Kristina Blum.

Blum recalled text messages outlined by the detective between those involved, in addition to Kendall's statements, in finding what she called sufficient evidence to bind felony murder, aggravated assault and marijuana dealing charges against Lewis to Superior Court. Only judges in the higher court have jurisdiction to consider bond on felony murder charges.

Outside the courtroom, Hennelly said further charges are a possibility. Multiple facets of the case are under investigation, he said.

Among the carnage, police found the briefcase on a kitchen table. Inside was a plastic bag stuffed with baseball batting gloves.