FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) — So where was Jacquail Belcher the night of June 28, 2018?
At his home on Plaza Drive, babysitting his little sister, Shadasha Lee, now 12, and another sibling?
Or was he with three companions he reportedly shot to death at Fourth and Harrison Streets around midnight and then got himself to Break & Run on Goshen Road?
Those two conflicting narratives ran side by side Thursday on the final day of testimony at the murder trial of Belcher, 30, accused of killing Breondon Pinkston, 28, Deshaun Devon Richards, 25, and Dernail Ivory Brown, 26, a few minutes after midnight nearly five years ago.
The triple homicide went from cold case to open when a witness called to say that Belcher was at her house one hour before the shootings. Fort Wayne homicide detective Ben MacDonald started reworking the evidence, sending DNA swabs to the Indiana State Police laboratory for testing after samples had been taken from the back seat and headrest of a gray Chrysler 200 Pinkston was driving that night.
A DNA expert testified Thursday that it was a trillion times more likely that DNA found on the right rear passenger panel was Belcher’s than anyone else’s. Police believe that Belcher was sitting behind Brown in the front passenger seat and that he shot the other two inside the car from the victims’ right. Brown died on the sidewalk on Fourth Street.
The jury wanted to know how long does DNA last? Can you tell how long the DNA was on that panel?
The answer was no.
Belcher had been a suspect in the homicides all along. There just wasn’t enough evidence to file charges. But after MacDonald was contacted by a woman who said Belcher was at her house with the three victims an hour before they were killed, he tracked down surveillance video from the nearby Mission Church at Sixth and Cass streets.
Fort Wayne police digital forensics expert, Sgt. John Helmsing, worked through grainy digital frames to identify Belcher by his hairline.
During his police interview, Belcher repeatedly told MacDonald he was accused of the homicides by “everybody,” but he didn’t do it.
“What did I do?” Belcher asked at the beginning of the interview. “I didn’t do anything.” Belcher said he recalled hearing about the homicides when they occurred in 2018.
MacDonald asked Belcher what he’d think if he told him his DNA was found in that vehicle.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Belcher responded.
“Three guys hanging around in your circle were dead the same night,” MacDonald pressed on.
Then, Belcher responded, “people were saying I did it. I don’t know. I know I didn’t do it. I know for a fact I wasn’t there.” Belcher said he was at his mother’s home on Plaza Drive.
“I was at my mom’s or at my sister’s,” Belcher told MacDonald. The first he heard of the triple homicide was at Break & Run, about a mile and a half from the crime scene. The news was also all over Snapchat and Facebook, Belcher said.
Later in the interview, he admitted to knowing “Beans,” the nickname for Richards. He didn’t even know Beans’ real name even though he said, at one point, that they had lived together. When MacDonald told him witnesses saw Belcher with the other three an hour before the homicides, he said “they pulled up at my momma’s. I didn’t go nowhere with these dudes.”
The Belcher family has turned out in numbers for the trial, filling half of the seating for courtroom onlookers. Belcher, it turns out, was adopted by his aunt, Cynthia Bennett. His dad was “some white guy,” according to testimony, that the family never knew.
Bennett testified for the defense and created an alibi for Belcher. While she worked from 3 p.m. to 11 p.m., Monday through Friday, Belcher was her main babysitter and that’s what he was doing the night of the homicides.
Bennett’s daughter, Shajasha Lee, also testified that during that time frame she had basketball practice and that her brother (actual cousin) was there to babysit for her.
The defense will more than likely pick apart witnesses’ descriptions of the shooter that night. Two descriptions that don’t fit his appearance are that he was 6-feet tall when he’s actually 5 feet five inches tall, according to court documents, and that he was “dark-skinned” when he is light-skinned.
The defense will also mock the jailhouse informant, an older inmate with a long list of drug offenses, who reported that Belcher told him “that he did some bad **** and he “smoked” three people.” It was the informant who said Belcher committed the acts because the three were threatening his cousins, thereby giving retaliation as a motive.
But the informant got a good deal from the prosecutors who got his prison time knocked from eight years to three and those three will likely be spent in alternate sentencing, like home detention.
“I didn’t commit no murder. I didn’t kill nobody,” Belcher told MacDonald. “I’ll see you in court.”
“I guess we will,” MacDonald said. “I didn’t expect you to admit it.”
Closing arguments are expected to begin around 9:30 a.m. Chief Deputy Prosecutor Tom Chaille and Chief Counsel Tesa Helge will speak for the state; Attorneys Ryan Gardner and Greg Miller will represent the defendant at closings.