Two women testified Thursday in the murder trial of Rodney Cunningham that the defendant was partying with them in a hotel across town when Carlos Kelly was beaten to death at his northwest Columbia apartment last year.
The women testified for the defense and provided an alibi for Cunningham for the night Kelly, 34, was killed.
The defense and the prosecution rested their cases Thursday evening. Jury deliberations were to begin at 8:30 this morning.
Cunningham, 30, faces charges of second-degree murder and first-degree robbery in Kelly’s death. In March, Cunningham’s friend, Travis Midgyett, 27, was tried on the same charges. But jurors deadlocked, and a mistrial was declared. The same charges against a third suspect, Felson Barney, 29, were dropped last year after an eyewitness recanted his statements.
The defense’s two alibi witnesses, Andrea Wood and Jamie Martin, said they met Cunningham for the first time on March 28, 2006, and were with him until the morning of March 29. Kelly was found dead at 4:21 a.m. March 29.
During her testimony, Wood said she and Cunningham, along with Martin, spent the afternoon hanging out and doing drugs, including cocaine, at the La Quinta Inn in east Columbia, where she and Martin had rented two rooms. Wood said that she was a prostitute at the time.
Later that night, Cunningham, Martin and Wood went to Club Vogue, a strip club in central Columbia, she said.
Martin testified that she and Wood left the club for about half an hour but returned to pick Cunningham up around 2:30 a.m., just before the club closed. She said the three of them went back to the hotel where they, along with one other man, stayed all night — Cunningham and Wood in one room, Martin and the other man in another. Martin said when she woke up around 8 a.m., Cunningham was awake and arguing with Wood.
But Nicole Gorovsky, Boone County Assistant Prosecuting Attorney, told jurors that Martin was uncooperative with police and unclear on the details of the night during depositions and conversations with detectives. Martin replied that she was under the influence of drugs during those times and that her own criminal history made her hesitant to talk to police.
Columbia police Detective Latisha Stroer, who interviewed Angela Hawkins, a friend of Carlos Kelly’s girlfriend and the first to arrive at the scene of the murder, testified that Hawkins identified Cunningham in a photo line-up as one of the men who was outside of Kelly’s apartment when she arrived. Stroer testified that Hawkins said the man she identified chased her down, made her come back to the apartment and talked to her for a while.
Hawkins testified Wednesday that Cunningham was upstairs when she arrived at Kelly’s apartment.
But Cunningham’s public defender, Richard French, showed the jury cell phone records that he said prove Cunningham was across town at the time of the murder. Russ Chrisman, an engineer for Sprint, told the jury that he tested the cell tower closest to Kelly’s apartment and another nearest the La Quinta Inn and found that it was extremely unlikely that the calls on Cunningham’s phone records could have been made from Kelly’s apartment.
During cross-examination, Gorovsky pointed out the phone records only showed the tower that was used at the start of the call and at the end of the call. Gorovsky asked Chrisman whether it was possible that Cunningham could have gone to Kelly’s without the call registering in the phone records.
He responded that was true as long as her call was never dropped.