BELTON — Three Temple homicide cases may be tried at the same time, a Bell County judge decided Thursday afternoon.
The attorneys for Killeen residents Rashari Nae Fonne Brent, 19, Chelsea Gabrielle Swint, 19, and Veronica Desiree Martin, 17, all argued to separate the cases for very similar reasons — but to no avail — as the argument of Assistant District Attorney Michael Waldman led to state District Judge Fancy Jezek’s decision.
The defendants are charged with murder in the Dec. 5, 2018, slaying of Isaac Kohlhaas during a drug buy in the parking lot of Walmart lot at 6801 W. Adams Ave.
Representing Brent is Michael White. Zachary Boyd is the attorney for Swint. The attorney for Martin is Steve Lee.
The three defendants were questioned by Jezek to make sure they understood why they were in court.
Waldman filed a motion on May 13 to join the felony murder cases together, he said. His argument is the teens should be charged as parties who allegedly worked together to commit a crime.
Jezek asked for each court-appointed defense attorney’s position on the motion, and all three agreed they were against the motion.
Everyone would “end up butting heads” because of different versions of the events, Boyd voiced. Boyd believed the trials need to be separated because of the nature of the defenses.
White said he “strongly opposes” joining the trials. He said he hadn’t received a lot of discovery yet for his client, and some of the allegations of other attorneys and defendants could prejudice the case against Brent.
The concern of Lee was that the cases might “slap over” into others and create real conflicts because of the claims of extraneous offenses. The individual attorneys would have to offer the information on those reported offenses to show how the case was put together, Lee said.
With the three different histories to put together, the jury might just say “let’s convict them all,” Lee argued.
Waldman said the state will focus on “what the girls did that night.” He also said the defense attorneys would have to show there was real prejudice involved to separate the trials.
He argued that claiming separate versions and conflicts were not sufficient legal reasons to sever the cases.
Jezek agreed with Waldman and said, for now, the cases will be joined. However, if an attorney has grounds to sever the trials, Jezek will let them come before her and she’ll let them know her decision before the trial, she said.
Bell County District Attorney Henry Garza was asked by the Telegram if it was more economically responsible for Bell County to hold the three trials at the same time.
“In some instances the law does not allow the joinder (union) of parties,” Garza said. “However, we have on occasion tried multiple defendants at the same time.”
When the law allows, Bell County files a motion to join the parties, Garza said.
“It requires a hearing and the attorneys for the defendant can state their reason against the joinder,” he said. “Ultimately, the court makes a determination and we proceed in accordance with the decision.”
Martin and Jazlyn Miller were both 16 at the time of the homicide and were certified to stand trial as adults. Miller, however, was indicted for conspiracy to commit aggravated robbery, not Kohlhaas’ homicide.
Kohlhaas reportedly was shot and killed when he was robbed during a drug deal, arrest affidavits said. He had a single gunshot wound to his chest and died from his injuries at Baylor Scott & White Medical Center-Temple.
A bag of marijuana was found underneath him in the parking lot, an affidavit said.
Martin and Brent reportedly set up Kohlhaas for the robbery and took a firearm to the meeting with him. All three girls worked as individuals and as part of a group to rob him, and a firearm shot in Kohlhaas’ direction caused his death, the indictment said.
If convicted of murder, each girl could be sentenced to from 5 to 99 years or life in prison.
Brent’s bonds in the Bell County Jail total $1,220,000, which includes two misdemeanor charges and two motions to revoke probation. Swint is held on a $1 million bond, and Martin’s bond was set at $150,000, jail records showed.