FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) — Was the 2018 triple homicide all about retaliation?

That’s what an Allen County informant told the jury Wednesday on the second day of Jacquail Belcher’s murder trial, but it took defense attorney Ryan Gardner to say it loud enough for the entire courtroom to hear.

“These guys were going after his (Belcher’s) cousins?” Gardner asked the informant, brought in from protective custody at the Allen County Jail.

Belcher, now 30, is charged with shooting to death Breondon Pinkston, 28, Deshaun Devon Richards, 25 and Dernail Ivory Brown, 26, on June 28, 2018, a few minutes after midnight. The crime scene started with Brown found on the sidewalk at Harrison and Fourth streets. It ended 900 feet west where the gray Chrysler 300 Pinkston was driving crashed into a Ford Windstar van parked outside The Pantry.

The informant, who got his sentence reduced from eight to three years for dealing methamphetamine, said he had many conversations with Belcher. Belcher’s nickname is “Mad Max,” and he bragged about carrying guns, he said. Belcher told him he “smoked” three guys.

The informant had his mother call Fort Wayne police because he felt the families of the three victims deserved closure. Only then did he talk to Ben MacDonald, chief homicide detective, about a lesser sentence, according to court testimony. Gardner said the lesser sentence could also result in “alternate sentencing” like work release or home detention where the inmate won’t be stuck behind bars.

WANE 15 is not naming the informant at the behest of the court because of possible retaliation against him. Those who testify against other inmates are known as snitches and their lives can be difficult in jail, he said.

Wednesday was the first time a motive was ever put forward. Testimony still didn’t answer the question “where is it?” a phrase Belcher allegedly shouted twice at one of the victims as he flipped him over on the sidewalk at Fourth and Harrison streets, according to a witness.

Dernail Brown died from a gunshot wound to the lower mid-back, the bullet ripping through the left and right lungs and the apex of the heart, Dr. Darin Wolfe, a forensic medical doctor, testified. With his injury, he could not have lived more than a couple of minutes, Wolfe said. By the time the police arrived on June 28, shortly after midnight, Brown was pronounced dead at the scene.

While Brown collapsed and died outside of the gray Chrysler 300, the two other victims were shot inside the car, Wolfe said.

Richards was shot just to the right of the right eye, the bullet traveling through the skull base to the left side of his head, the shot “pretty much level, at medium range,” which could mean anywhere from four inches to 30 inches, according to Wolfe. With this kind of shot, Richards lost his life in an instant.

Sandy Davis, cousin to Breondon Pinkston, one of three homicide victims, was kicked out of court for disruptive behavior after watching a video. She’d like to be allowed to come back to the trial.

Pinkston, who was driving, was shot four times with the bullets also coming from the right – to the upper arm, right upper back, lower back and left forearm. The bullet to the lower back injured the abdomen, kidney, diaphragm, and liver and again, the injuries Pinkston sustained didn’t allow him to survive more than a couple of minutes, Wolfe said. He was taken to a local hospital where he was pronounced dead.

Six bullets were recovered from the bodies of the three men and all three were shot with a 9mm handgun, Alan Garriott, lead crime scene technician, testified. But no mention of the murder weapon has been made. Instead, police recovered a .40 caliber Spring Armory XD40 handgun which doesn’t have the capability to shoot 9mm rounds, Garriott said.

The case nearly went cold in 2019 until Officer Dan Hutson, working in homicide at the time, got a call with fresh information. A description of Belcher came in and other information identifying him as one of four individuals at a home prior to the shooting. Another tip indicated that Belcher was seen at the Break & Run Pool Bar shortly after the three men were killed.

Hutson contacted Christin Cronin who had chanced upon the scene while she was driving in the area with her children. She testified she saw an African-American man on top of another man and he was shooting him. When one of her children said he thought the victim was a child, she drove back and called 911. She saw a man run down an alley and waited at the scene, according to her testimony on Wednesday.

Cronin believes she was no more than 20 feet away and locked eyes with the shooter. But first, she described him as dark-complected, the opposite of Belcher.

But when Hutson had her go through an array of photos, her eyes paused on Belcher’s photo, Hutson said. Hutson turned three or four photos over to Sgt. John Helmsing in digital forensics. The video tape he worked off of came from the Mission Church at the corner of Cass and Sixth streets where 16 cameras are positioned around the property.

Helmsing was able to partially identify Belcher walking past the church property around the time of the shooting due to his unusual hairline. The video tape was played in court and a man can be clearly seen walking along the path, even though surveillance cameras five or six years ago don’t have the same clarity as they do now, Helmsing said.

Showing the tape caused some drama in the courtroom. Three women from the victims’ families got up noisily and walked out, prompting court officials to ban them from the rest of the court proceedings.

Another woman was told to leave after the break after she loudly complained that Belcher was speaking to his family across the rail, though he was standing with his attorneys.

Eavonda Pinkston, Breondon’s mother, said the women recognized Belcher from the tape that was shown.

“You could see his face clearly,” Pinkston said, and the way he walks.

The trial resumes Thursday with the possibility that the defense will call Belcher himself to the stand.