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Widow testifies in double-murder trial

By Linda Looney-Bond

lbond@news-daily.com

The widow of an Ellenwood man, who was shot to death during a double murder in 2006, took the stand for the prosecution in Clayton County Superior Court Wednesday.

Latoya Holmes Goodman, formerly Latoya Holmes Degree, said she was in bed asleep when her then-husband, Norris Degree, stumbled into their bedroom, bloodied, on March 20, 2006.

"I heard him bust through the door. He was like, 'Call the ambulance, I been shot,'" Goodman said. She said she then called 911.

Goodman testified that she and Degree have two children together, and that she has another daughter, from a previous relationship. She said the children woke up during the commotion. "All three of them came out, and they saw me holding Norris in my arms," she said.

The shooting occurred at the Cobblestone Flats Apartments, located at 2445 Rex Road.

During opening arguments Wednesday, Jason Green, Clayton County executive assistant district attorney, said the evidence in the case would show that Norris Degree was shot two times.

"Norris Degree died at home with his wife and three kids -- caused by the two men here before you, sitting 15 feet away," Green said, pointing to co-defendants Kevin Michael Brewington, 24, and Gary Hakeem Brown, 25. The two are being tried together in the shooting deaths of Norris Degree and Degree's friend, Stanley Brown.

Brewington and Gary Brown, who also lived at the Cobblestone Flats Apartments, were arrested at the apartment they shared several days after the murders, according to court records.

A third man is also charged with the two murders. Tyrone Vincent Brown, 27, was scheduled to be tried this week as well, but his case was postponed after his attorney, Loletha Denise Hale, was held in contempt of court Monday. Tyrone Brown was arrested sometime after his co-defendants, according to court records.

Also during opening arguments Wednesday, Green talked about the shooting death of Stanley Brown. "Stanley Brown had no fewer than eight gunshot wounds," he said. Stanley Brown was transported to Southern Regional Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead, according to court records.

At the time of the murders, Stanley Brown was living in the apartment with Norris Degree, Degree's wife, Latoya, and the couple's three children, according to testimony in the case.

Green said the state intends to call to the stand an eyewitness, Shannon Dean, who said she saw the three co-defendants shoot Norris Degree and Stanley Brown in the breezeway of Building R. "Shannon Dean had come back from the mailbox. She knew the defendants. She knew Tyrone Brown by the nickname Needy. Needy was actually trying to holler at her, trying to date her," Green said. "Every time she saw Needy, she almost always saw these two men [ the co-defendants] with him," he said.

Green also told the jury that several guns that were found in the apartment where Brewington and Gary Brown were arrested, have been linked to the murders of Stanley Brown and Norris Degree. "All of the handguns match the ballistics test. The Smith and Wesson ... shot Stanley Brown, and the Taurus, 9mm, which did most of the damage, hit both of them," Green said.

He also prepared the jury for statements they might hear from the defense attorneys. He said the jury could expect that defense attorneys would tell them about a text message that Norris Degree's then-wife, Latoya, sent to her husband, four days before the murders.

"She wrote to him '[expletive] you, dead man,'" Green said. "They were having an argument about cheating. He [Norris Degree] says to her, 'You're in the streets messing around with guys. You're going to catch something and die,'" Green said.

While testifying for the prosecution, Latoya Holmes Goodman, who is now re-married, according to the district attorney's office, explained the text message.

"We had an argument about cheating, and us not getting along, and people calling the phone that he didn't think should be calling," Goodman said.

"He [Norris Degree} said you're going to keep messing around, and you're going to catch something and die. He called me out of my name, and I was hurt," she said.

Defense attorney Mawuli Mel Davis, who is representing defendant, Kevin Brewington, did mention the text message during his opening arguments. "I've had some bad fights with my wife, but '[expletive] you dead man?' " he said to the jury.

Davis continued, "The shell casings recovered from the scene are in no way connected to Kevin Brewington." He then addressed the issue of the eye witness. "Shannon Dean, the state's star witness ... the night of the shooting ... said, 'I didn't see anything. I was in the shower,' and she signed a written statement to that affect," Davis said.

"She gave at least five different stories about what she saw," Davis told the jury.

Later, the defense attorney for Gary Brown, Katrina Breeding, echoed Davis' statements regarding Shannon Dean. "On March 20, she writes a statement and says, 'I was in my bedroom, and I heard the shooting, and I stayed there.'

"One week after the shooting, she said she was coming from the mailbox and observed the shooting," Breeding said.

Breeding also told the jury that the 911 tape from the incident will show that, before he died, Norris Degree could be heard in the background saying, "There were three" perpetrators.

"We expect the evidence to show that there were three adult males living in Shannon Dean's apartment," Breeding said.

No motive for the shootings was mentioned during opening arguments, or in court documents regarding the case. However, in an application for arrest warrants, Clayton County Police said that, according to authorities in Boston, Mass., Kevin Brewington and Tyrone Brown were both suspected in nine Boston homicides.

Clayton Police said the M.O. of the homicides in Boston was that the subjects would call a local drug dealer, and when the dealer came to meet them to sell them drugs, they would kill the dealer, and steal the drugs.

The prosecution is expected to continue presenting its case when the trial resumes at 9 a.m., today.