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Accused killer Evan J. Holmes, testifying at his murder trial Wednesday in New London Superior Court, placed himself in the Montauk Avenue bedroom where Jorge Rosa was fatally shot two years ago, but implied that another man did the shooting.
Holmes, 22, of New London, suggested through his testimony that Rosa was killed by Zachary Perkins, who impregnated Rosa's girlfriend within weeks of the shooting. Holmes had previously dated the same woman, Gabriela Gonzalez, who was in bed with Rosa when he was killed on Nov. 12, 2011.
Perkins has not been charged in connection with the homicide. He is on the defense's list of potential witnesses but has indicated through his attorney, Peter E. Scillieri, that he would exercise his right to remain silent if called to testify.
Holmes began testifying late in the day, walking to the stand outside the presence of jurors so they would not see or hear his leg irons. He has been incarcerated since he was arrested at an Old Saybrook hotel within hours of Rosa's death. He has pleaded not guilty to murder, felony murder, home invasion, burglary and possession of a pistol by a previously convicted felon and opted for a trial rather than accept a plea offer from the prosecution that involved a lengthy prison sentence.
Speaking softly, and with several of his family members listening in the gallery, Holmes presented his version of that night's events by answering a series of questions posed by his attorney, William T. Koch Jr. Holmes, who had been released from prison on Nov. 3, 2011, after serving 18 months for an unrelated shooting, testified that Gonzalez's sister and friend contacted him in the days before the shooting about seeing Gonzalez, who had broken up with him while he was in prison. He said he declined because he had "moved on."
Consistent with the testimony of other witnesses, Holmes said he went to the New London High School football game the previous night, attended a friend's party and went to an after-hours party at the WildStyle Riders motorcycle club in downtown New London at about 2:30 a.m. on Nov. 12. Holmes said his friend Melvin Simmons drove Holmes' white Ford Crown Victoria because he was too drunk to drive.
Holmes testified that the club was shut down about 4 a.m. "due to an altercation. He said he attempted to stop an argument outside but got jumped and was hurt "pretty bad."
Departing from the stories of other witnesses, Holmes testified that he, Perkins, Simmons and Davion Smith got into his car, and he asked to be taken to the hospital for his injuries. Perkins was high, Holmes said. When they reached 252 Montauk Ave., Holmes said they stopped because he had "been told" that the man who jumped him, Todd "T.O." Silva, wanted to talk with him. Silva was Rosa's roommate in the third-floor apartment.
"I didn't want to go up there," Holmes testified.
But Holmes said he and Smith went up to apartment and that Perkins had gone up to the apartment before them. He said he walked into the bedroom, where everyone was "congregating," and left with Smith after being told Silva was not there. Holmes testified that he had never met Jorge Rosa.
Gonzalez had testified last week that she woke up to see Holmes and Smith standing at the foot of the bed with guns and that Holmes asked Rosa "who he was" before shooting him.
Perkins "eventually" returned to the car, Holmes testified. He said he didn't hear any gunshots. He said he dropped everyone off and called his girlfriend, Shanice Sebastian, and they went to the Days Inn, where he was arrested the next morning. Arriving at the hotel, he said Sebastian gave him a black hooded sweatshirt from the back seat and told him, "Put this on," before he registered for the room.
Sebastian, testifying last week, said that Holmes told her some time after they arrived at the hotel that he had shot somebody.
The jury heard Wednesday morning from DNA examiner Daniel Renstrom of the state forensic laboratory, who testified that Holmes' DNA was found in blood samples collected from the stairway, walls and floor at 252 Montauk Ave. and from the comforter on Rosa's bed. Renstrom also testified that Holmes' DNA was found in a blood swab taken from the left sleeve of the hooded sweatshirt that Rosa's roommate, Silva, was wearing at the after-hours party.
The jury heard Tuesday from a forensic expert that there was gunshot residue on the hooded sweatshirt Holmes was wearing. But his sister, Justina Smith, testified Wednesday that Holmes, who was living with her on Williams Street, was medium-sized and did not own a large black hooded sweatshirt.
Prosecutor Paul J. Narducci began an aggressive cross-examination of Holmes before the trial broke for the day.
"This is the first time you've told anyone this story about Zachary Perkins?" Narducci asked. Holmes said he didn't mention anything about Perkins to police.
Holmes' attorney objected to Narducci's line of questioning, saying it was a violation of his Fifth Amendment rights. The attorneys are expected to argue the issue before the cross-examination resumes today.