What can be described as the final chapter in the story of Latisha Frazier’s death began Tuesday morning with the start of defendant Johnnie Sweet‘s murder trial.
Sweet, 19, is charged with taking part in Frazier’s death- a killing that, as one teen described at trial Tuesday, was fueled by peer pressure. Six young people are belived to have taken part, but Sweet is the only one as yet to have his culpability weighed by a jury. Four young people have pleaded guilty to charges connected with the case, including murder and kidnapping. Charges for a fifth are listed in court records as “pending grand jury.”
Prosecutors believe the trial will last longer than a week, and will include details of how Sweet and his accomplices beat, taped, gagged and choked eighteen-year-old Frazier until she died in a closet on Aug. 2, 2010. The trial will not include any evidence from medical examiners or the autopsy reports common to most murder trials; Frazier’s body was never found.
It was Sweet’s house, prosecutors argued Tuesday that Frazier disappeared from.
At that time, Sweet’s mother was hospitalized and he used the house as a “party house,” prosecutor Chris Kavanaugh told jurors in opening statements. He said Sweet’s friends would often visit for “sex, drinking and video games.”
Lanee Bell, who pleaded guilty to kidnapping in connection with the case, testified Tuesday that around 3 p.m. on the day of Frazier’s beating Sweet knocked on her front door and told her to come over to his house where “everyone was chillin’ and listening to music.”
On the stand, Bell said that she waited about 15 minutes before going over to Sweet’s house, and when she got there the other co-defendants were all waiting in a back bedroom.
Bell said that after a few minutes in the bedroom Sweet told her that he wanted her to beat up a girl who had stolen a “stack” of money from him. Bell testified that she didn’t take Sweet’s request seriously at first, and he never told her the name of the alleged thief.
A few minutes later Sweet went to the front door and returned to the bedroom with his arm around Frazier’s neck as if they were friends, Bell said. Still dressed in her McDonald’s uniform, Frazier sat in a chair and then Sweet closed the bedroom door and said, “Ain’t nobody about to leave.”
Aneka Nelson then threw the first punch, Bell told the court.
Bell said that Frazier looked surprised and asked, “What is going on?”
No one answered; Nelson just kept punching. Then, Proctor joined the beating.
Nelson and Proctor continued throwing punches, while Frazier stood in the corner covering her face with her arms, Bell said. Then Sweet urged Bell to join in.
“I didn’t know this was going to happen,” Bell testified. “It was like a peer pressure thing.”
Bell said that after a few minutes of punching Frazier she pushed the other two women away and told them to stop because Frazier had done nothing to them and she was not defending herself. Bell testified that Sweet then hit Frazier “too many times to count.”
“He beat her to the floor and then started stomping on her as if he was crushing a soda can,” Bell testified.
A few minutes later Gaither said, “It’s my turn,” and he too began stomping on Frazier, Bell said.
Bell said that Sweet then went to the bathroom and retrieved a set of brass knuckles with an extended knife and said, “I’ma kill this b—.”
As Bell was leaving the house, she heard Sweet say, “I need something to tie this b— up with,” she said.
Later that evening, Bell briefly went back to Sweet’s home but she didn’t ask what happened to Frazier.
“I didn’t want to know,” she told jurors.
Sweet is charged with first-degree murder, felony murder, kidnapping and evidence tampering in connection with Frazier’s death; he was arrested Feb. 1, 2011.
Sweet’s defense attorney, James Rudasill Jr., argued that although the beating took place in Sweet’s home, and it was Sweet’s money that she allegedly stole, Sweet was not the ring-leader of the attack against Frazier.
The trial is scheduled to resume Wednesday morning in Judge Russell Canan’s courtroom.