Courtroom hears Gingerella's final moments on 911 call

Defendant Dante A. Hughes, listens to testimony during the first day of testimony Wednesday in his murder trial in New London Superior Court. (Tim Martin/The Day)
Defendant Dante A. Hughes, listens to testimony during the first day of testimony Wednesday in his murder trial in New London Superior Court. (Tim Martin/The Day)

Homicide victim Joey Gingerella's moans of pain in the moments before his death were broadcast in a New London courtroom Thursday morning when the state played a 911 call placed by the bar patron who was within feet of Gingerella when he was shot.

Prosecutor Christa L. Baker played a recording of the call in Superior Court during the second day of the murder trial of Dante A. Hughes, who is accused of fatally shooting Gingerella in the parking lot of Ryan's Pub in Groton on Dec. 11, 2016. John Hoyt, who was on the witness stand, had placed the call as he fashioned tourniquets from his long-sleeved shirt and undershirt and applied them to gunshot wounds on Gingerella's leg and shoulder. Gingerella also had been shot in the abdomen, according to previous testimony.

"Where is the assailant?" the dispatcher asked twice during the 911 call.

"We don't know," Hoyt responded.

Gingerella's sounds of distress could be heard during parts of the call. His mother and sister, listening in the courtroom, put their hands on their faces and wept silently.

Hoyt testified that he had just pulled Hughes away from the driver's side of Hughes' car, to stop Hughes from beating his girlfriend, Latoya Knight, in the head with a "full on closed fist." He knew Gingerella was nearby, because he said Gingerella had tugged on the back of his shirt a couple of times. Hoyt said he was talking to Knight, who he said was bleeding from the nose, when he heard "three pops."

"I turned around and I saw Dante with his gun in his hand, pointing to the sky," Hoyt testified. "Joey was on the ground, shielding himself with his hand."

Hoyt said it happened so quickly he wasn't sure whether Hughes had shot the gun in the air and wondered if he was going to be shot next. Then, he said, Hughes "left the area" and he turned to Gingerella. Once he got down on the ground, he said he noticed that another man, Andrew Flynn, was nearby. Hoyt said at first, he saw just the gunshot wound to the leg and didn't think Gingerella, who was "hunched over on his side," was hurt badly, and told him, "Don't worry. I got you."

But when he touched Gingerella and saw blood on his own hand, he realized the severity of Gingerella's wounds and called 911, Hoyt testified.

Hoyt said he had drunk whiskey on the rocks before walking to the bar five hours earlier, and that he continued to drink beer through the night and would not have driven. He said he had purchased $20 worth of marijuana from Hughes a short time before the shooting and that Hughes seemed calm and friendly. Hoyt said when he asked Hughes for rolling papers, Hughes went to his car and tore out a page from a bible and handed it to him. Hoyt later turned over the page to the police.

Flynn, who took Hoyt's cellphone and briefly talked to the 911 dispatcher, testified next. He said he had been drinking for several hours and was "buzzed, but still aware" of what was happening. He said about 1:30 a.m., after bartender Rachel Smith asked him to go outside and check on Gingerella, he saw Gingerella arguing with Hughes, whom he had never seen before. He said he put his arms up between them to separate them and told them "to chill" but walked away and stopped paying attention because "it didn't seem to be serious."

Then, Flynn testified, he was close to the bar when he heard gunshots. He said he looked both ways and saw Gingerella on the ground and Hughes running across the street. Flynn said he stayed with Gingerella until first responders arrived, giving his winter jacket to Elvira "Missy" Gonzalez to help stop his friend's bleeding.

Flynn admitted under direct examination by the prosecutor and cross examination by defense attorney Walter D. Hussey that he was angry because it seemed like it took first responders a long time to arrive and thought "more could have been done." Police witnesses have testified that they were at the scene within two to four minutes and a Groton Ambulance crew arrived within minutes.

Flynn also admitted he told police that night that Gingerella had a lot of confidence and sometimes talked recklessly to people.

"He likes to joke around, except people might not take it the right way," he testified.

Unable to remember many of that night's events, Flynn admitted under cross-examination that it may have been from drinking or from the trauma of the shooting, or a combination of both.

Testimony got off to a bumpy start Thursday when a juror arrived late and told court officials he realized he knew Gingerella and his family. The judge asked him if he could still be fair, and he replied, "No, because I think he (Hughes) is guilty." He was excused, and one of the three alternate jurors was seated.

Also Thursday, Groton Town Patrolman Robert Saracina testified that he interviewed Hughes' girlfriend, Knight, who had been told not to leave the scene. He said he sat in her Nissan Armada SUV with her, because it was cold out, and asked to see her telephone. He said that after getting information from the bartender, he asked to see Knight's cellphone and she gave it to him. Saracina said he found a picture of Hughes and showed it to the bartender, then sent it out to everyone working the midnight shift. Knight initially told him it was a picture of Justin Davenport from Norwich. Patrolman Marvel Bennett, who was on desk duty, recognized the man in the photo as Hughes, with whom he had had previous contact, and broadcast that information to other officers. Knight heard the radio broadcast, and when Saracina asked her again who the person was, he said she cried and ultimately admitted it was Hughes.

Bennett had recognized the photo of Hughes, who had his hair in short dreadlocks and was wearing sunglasses, on the night of the incident, but when he took the witness stand Thursday and was asked twice by prosecutor Paul J. Narducci if he recognized Hughes in the courtroom, he scanned the courtroom and said no. Hughes has changed his appearance since the incident and now has a short haircut.

Retired Detective Jeffrey Payette from the Eastern District Major Crime Squad was testifying when the trial broke for the day. He narrated a video that the squad had taken while assisting Groton Town police with the crime scene investigation. The video showed the bar parking lot in the aftermath of the shooting, with blood, three shell casings, clothing and an upside-down baseball cap on the ground.

 k.florin@theday.com 

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