Girlfriend of murder defendant insists she doesn't remember Groton shooting details

The woman at the center of Joey Gingerella's shooting death in the parking lot of Ryan's Pub in December 2016 disowned much of what she had told police during two recorded interrogations when she testified Tuesday at the murder trial of her boyfriend, Dante A. Hughes.

"I was really, really intoxicated the first time," Latoya Knight testified under cross-examination by Hughes' attorney, Walter D. Hussey. "I was intoxicated the second time."

Hughes, now 32, is accused of murdering Gingerella, 24, when Gingerella and others allegedly tried to stop him from beating his live-in girlfriend on Dec. 11, 2016. Tuesday was the fifth day of his trial in New London Superior Court, which is before a 12-member jury and is being watched by a group of the victim's family members and friends and a couple of Hughes' supporters.

Hughes claims he shot Gingerella in self-defense, and testimony about that claim is expected to occur in the coming days.  

For about five hours on Monday afternoon and Tuesday morning, jurors heard from the woman he had lived with for about two years prior to being arrested on Dec. 13, 2016, as he attempted, police said, to cross the border into Canada. Knight, also known as "Tootie," responded with "I don't remember" to most of prosecutor Paul J. Narducci's opening questions and later testified that watching recordings of the two police interrogations from the witness stand didn't help her recall many of the details.

Because her testimony on the witness stand was inconsistent with the prior statements she provided to police, Judge Barbara Bailey Jongbloed granted the state permission to play for the jury recordings of the Dec. 11, 2016, and Dec. 13, 2016, interrogations.

Police had stopped Knight as she tried to leave the scene of the 1:30 a.m. shooting. When they questioned her in her SUV at the scene, she lied and told them a picture of Hughes from her phone was Justin Davenport of Norwich, who is Hughes' brother. They took her to police headquarters and questioned her during a recorded interview. 

Two days later, detectives interviewed Knight again after serving her with an arrest warrant charging her with interfering with the investigation by giving false information about Hughes' identity.

"I was just being dumb," she told the detectives. "I just wanted to get home to my kids."

A 35-year-old mother of six children, Knight cursed frequently during both recorded interviews, saying at one point that she could still "picture that kid," Gingerella, lying on the ground and that she would spit on Hughes, who was still at large when she was being questioned, if she saw him.

During the second police interview, she told Detectives Matthew Hammerstrom and Donald Rankin that she and Hughes had been fighting because she suspected him of cheating, and that sometimes he didn't come home at night. She said she had been drinking Long Island Iced Tea, a beverage with several kinds of alcohol, and had had a fireball shot earlier that night. She said she threw a drink in Hughes' face inside the bar and the next thing she remembers, she was in the car and he was throwing "punch after punch after punch" at her face and head. She said she heard voices and somebody said, "Yo, get off her." She said she passed out in the driver's seat of her Nissan Armada SUV and was disoriented when she woke up and heard two gunshots. She said she saw Gingerella and another man on the ground, and that she drove away after somebody told her to "just leave."

Knight told detectives Hughes had never struck her before that night and that she never saw him with a gun until she noticed a "black" one in his pocket inside Ryan's shortly before the shooting. 

She said during the interrogation that Hughes was "just not happy with this life" and had come home one day, fallen to the floor and started crying. She said he asked her if she thought he was weak, and she told him to let it out and held him in her arms until he fell asleep.

At the time, Hughes was working as a flagger on road construction jobs and at Fatboy's Kitchen and Bar in New London, according to Knight's testimony. She was working at the Shack Restaurant in Groton.

She was outspoken about Hughes' mother, Angela Mims, a pastor, telling the detectives that she is not "a fan" of Mims, who she said asked her son, after meeting Knight, "Why are you even with her?" Mims, who lives in Texas, has attended the trial daily and was watching the recorded video of her son's girlfriend from the courtroom gallery.

Knight testified that she knew Gingerella from around town and had exchanged "small chitchat" with him inside the pub that night.  

"Groton's a small town. Everybody knows everybody," she testified.

Asked whether Hughes had obtained a gun because somebody was giving him trouble, she admitted the couple had a problem with Dawquan Knight, to whom she was married for 10 years and who is the father of three of her kids. She said Hughes had told him he couldn't just come over to the house any time he wanted and that one night, Dawquan Knight had burst into their house with a gun.

On Thursday, detectives are expected to testify about the capture of Hughes at the Rainbow Bridge in Niagara Falls, N.Y.

k.florin@theday.com 

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