Testimony: Hughes told uncle after Gingerella murder, 'I shot somebody'

Accused killer Dante A. Hughes went to his uncle's home hours after Joey Gingerella had been fatally shot in Groton and said, "I shot somebody," according to testimony Monday morning at Hughes' trial in New London Superior Court.

He also texted his employer at Fatboy's Kitchen and Bar in New London and said, "Not coming in for a long time, chef," according to testimony.

Hughes, 32, is accused of fatally shooting Gingerella, 24, of Groton, after Gingerella tried to protect Hughes' girlfriend, Latoya Knight, as Hughes allegedly assaulted her in the parking lot of Ryan's Pub in Groton on Dec. 11, 2016.

His uncle, Shelton Rawls, and Rawls' live-in girlfriend, former Norwich alderwoman Jacqueline Caron, both were called to the witness stand Monday along with Groton Town Police investigators Lauren Fippinger and Bridget Nordstrom and detective Matthew Hammerstrom.

Rawls and Caron were living at 234 Hickory St. in Norwich in December 2016, but have since moved to Mount Olive, N.C., and were subpoenaed to testify at the murder trial. From the witness stand, Rawls, the brother of Hughes' father, identified his nephew at the defense table and said, "He's a very good kid."

Rawls testified that he was sleeping in his second-floor apartment when he received a phone call from somebody who said, "Open the door." He said he went downstairs and spoke to Hughes for 20 to 25 minutes.

He said, "'I shot somebody.'" Rawls testified he was "shocked."

Rawls said Hughes told him he had an incident with his girlfriend and told the man, "Mind your own business," and that he shot him. Rawls said Hughes left, and called him back the next morning after Rawls had seen a television broadcast about the shooting.

"He said, 'I killed somebody,' '' Rawls testified. "I said, 'I see.' ''

Caron testified that Hughes worked for her for six to 12 months as a flagger for CC Security Corp. in Plainfield and that Hughes sometimes became upset when he felt disrespected by the young linemen on road construction jobs.

"They would do things, say things that were unnecessary," Caron testified. "Me, I let things roll off my back. Not so for Dante and others."

Though she told police Hughes had "a short fuse," Caron said she would be able to calm him down by "talking it out" with him and that she never saw him in a physical confrontation. She said she woke up briefly when Rawls received the phone call at 2 or 3 a.m. on Dec. 11 but did not know who was calling until Rawls told her the next day.

Hughes' girlfriend, Latoya Knight, began testifying Monday afternoon, responding repeatedly to prosecutor Paul J. Narducci's questions by saying, "I don't remember." Knight was charged by Groton Town Police two days after the shooting with interfering with their investigation by providing false information. She has a case pending in the same courthouse as the accused killer, whom she described on the witness stand as "my best friend," and was accompanied by her attorney during her testimony.  

She wiped her face and shook her head several times on the witness stand, while Hughes bowed his head at the defense table. Knight said she didn't remember how she or Hughes got to Ryan's Pub that night, but recalled slapping a beer out of Hughes' hand inside the bar. She said she couldn't remember what they were arguing about and denied seeing him with a gun that night.

Knight testified she remembered Hughes hitting her in the face that night and that she heard voices and "two pops" when she woke up in her car. She said she saw two people on the ground and asked them what was going on.

"They said, 'Just leave,' '' she testified.

She was driving away from the scene when police stopped her from leaving.

Because her testimony on the witness stand was inconsistent with prior statements she provided at Groton Town Police headquarters, Judge Barbara Bailey Jongbloed granted the state permission to play for the jury recordings of the two interrogations. The jury was watching the first video, recorded in the hours after the shooting, on Monday afternoon and is expected to play the second recording, done two days later, when the trial resumes Tuesday. 

Investigator Nordstrom, who took the first statement from Knight, said Knight had a bloody nose and blood on her hands and pants and did not appear to be drunk even though she smelled of alcohol. Nordstrom said she took DNA swabs of the blood and seized Knight's cell phone during the interview.

Detective Hammerstrom, who assisted with both interrogations, described Knight as agitated and somewhat intoxicated during the first interrogation and said she was "quiet and somber" when he saw her in the interrogation room two days later. Hammerstrom said he showed Knight a photo of a red jacket seized at the couple's Waco Court home following the shooting and that she identified it as belonging to Hughes.

Investigator Fippinger testified that police had tried to "ping" Hughes' telephone through his cell phone provider on the Monday following the shooting, when he remained at large, but the GPS feature did not work because the phone was shut off. She said she called his number the next day and the phone rang. The cell phone provider, Verizon, was able to provide police with the latitude and longitude from which the call originated, and "It came back to Canada," Fippinger testified.

Police said Hughes was captured two days after the shooting when he attempted to cross into Canada via the Rainbow Bridge in Niagara Falls, N.Y.

k.florin@theday.com

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