TALLADEGA COUNTY -- Both sides gave opening arguments, and the state called several witnesses Tuesday in the capital murder trial of Austin Shane Bonner, 21.
Bonner is accused of shooting Joshuwah Bearden to death in 2015 while the latter was inside his new truck on Settlement Road near Sylacauga. The defense is arguing Bonner was acting in defense of his aunt and grandmother.
The state is not seeking the death penalty. If convicted, Bonner faces life in prison without the possibility of parole.
The case is being prosecuted by Marcus Reid and Brynn Crane of the Etowah County District Attorney’s Office because Talladega County District Attorney Steve Giddens recused himself to avoid a possible conflict of interest. Bonner is being represented by attorney Jon Adams.
Based on the testimony and cross-examination heard Tuesday, the sides seem to agree on a basic chain of events but differ on the details and on the interpretation of those events.
By all accounts, Bearden and Lindsey Bonner, the defendant’s aunt, had a tumultuous marriage that ended in divorce. They attempted to reconcile in 2014, but the relationship collapsed after a fight in the front yard of the house the couple shared on Settlement Road.
Bearden went to jail on a charge of domestic violence, and Lindsey Bonner got a protection from abuse order, but both were dropped when Bonner failed to show up in court.
Adams alleges she was never served with the papers telling her to come to court, although the state alleges that deputies attempted to serve her in person and left a door hanger at her home.
After moving out of the house, Bearden briefly rented a furnished trailer, then moved into a rental house behind the one on Settlement Road. At this point, Lindsey Bonner was living with a boyfriend, and the house on Settlement Road was vacant.
Several state’s witnesses testified Bearden was concerned about threats from the Bonner family in the weeks leading up to his death.
The night he died, he had just purchased a new truck and had gone out on a double date with his new girlfriend, a cousin and her husband.
They ended up at the home of his brother, Jeremiah Stallings, and his wife. The girlfriend, the cousin and Stallings all said they searched the truck looking for the owners manual to set up the Blue Tooth, and all testified there were no guns or weapons of any kind in the vehicle.
Bearden dropped his girlfriend off at her home, then went to his home to pick up his dog and take the dog for a ride. Bearden and Lindsey Bonner had two dogs when they were married, and each kept one after the divorce.
After picking up his dog, Bearden drove past Bonner, Lindsey Bonner and Lori Bonner, Lindsey’s mother and Austin’s grandmother, who were preparing the Settlement Road house for rental.
When Lindsey Bonner’s dog saw Bearden’s, she jumped out of the car she was in and ran after the truck. Fearing the dog would run into highway traffic, the three Bonners ran after her.
Bearden stopped the truck, opened a door and the dog jumped in. Lori Bonner said they did not recognize Bearden at first, until he got out of the vehicle.
Lindsey initially tried to climb into the driver’s seat, but was not successful; she then went around the truck to the passenger side and got in that way. Her mother grabbed ahold of the steering wheel, and Bearden fought with both of them, telling them to get out of his truck.
Lori Bonner then went around to the passenger side to pull her daughter out of the truck. Bearden took his foot of the brake and then stopped again, several times according to testimony from the Bonner women.
Lori Bonner said she was holding on to the side of the truck at this point.
Austin Bonner told authorities he first shot out one of the truck’s tires, then shot Bearden twice in the back.
One bullet passed all the way through Bearden’s body and grazed Lori Bonner. All three said they thought Bearden was trying to open a center console and expected him to have a gun, although no gun was found in the vehicle.
Austin Bonner called 911 and told police initially Bearden was trying to run him over and had run over his foot, which was not true.
Crane pointed out statements made under oath by Lori Bonner were inconsistent with the statements she gave to Talladega County Sheriff’s deputies immediately after the incident. She refused to concede she had made these statements even after being shown a transcript of her taped statement.
Testimony resumes today at 8:30 a.m. with body camera footage from the first deputy on the scene. The state is not expected to rest its case until sometime Thursday.
Circuit Judge Chad Woodruff is presiding over the case. From Wednesday forward, cellphones will not be allowed in the courtroom after someone had to be removed Tuesday for attempting to stream the proceedings.