The Las Vegas man who witnessed the death of his best friend in Bangor last year testified Monday that defendant Antoinne “Prince” Bethea started the fight that ended with his pal bleeding in the driveway of an apartment near Ohio Street.
That contradicted, at least temporarily, the self-defense scenario attorney Hunter Tzovarras of Bangor laid out for jurors in his opening statement Monday, the first day of Bethea’s murder trial at the Penobscot Judicial Center in the shooting death of Terrance Durel Sr.
Bethea, 41, of New Haven, Connecticut, is accused of killing Durel, 36, of New Orleans on April 16, 2017, outside the home Bethea shared with Durel’s estranged wife, Danielle Durel, 44, at 2 Highland Ave. He has pleaded not guilty to one count of intentional or knowing murder.
Durel was in Bangor the week before Easter with his longtime friend and son’s godfather, Stephen “Primo” Lancaster, 38, according to testimony Monday. Lancaster, who said he and Durel sold drugs while they were in Bangor, was granted immunity to testify.
Lancaster told the jury that his godson, Terrance Durel Jr., now 9, of Bangor, spent Friday night into Sunday with his dad and him at a Bangor motel. The two stopped after lunch on Easter by the apartment where the boy lived so the boy could change clothes and the men could take him fishing. Over lunch, Durel had texted his wife saying he wanted to talk with her and Bethea about his son, Lancaster said.
“A car came into the driveway and ‘Prince’ got out and said to Terrance [Sr.], ‘What do you want to talk to me about?’” Lancaster testified. “Terrance said, ‘I need to talk to you about some things that are going on with my son.’ ‘Prince’ said, ‘Hold on,’ and ran upstairs. I know what it means when someone says, ‘Hold on,’ and runs into the house. It means they are going to get something they can use on you.”
When Bethea returned, he pushed Durel, Lancaster said. Durel then took a swing at Bethea. Lancaster testified that he “tackled” the two men when Bethea had Durel pinned to the hood of a car. All three men wound up on the ground “scuffling.” During this time, Lancaster could see Bethea was reaching into his back pocket for a gun, he said.
“I tried to grab the gun but I couldn’t reach it,” Lancaster testified. “The gun went off two, three times. I heard my friend say, ‘I’m hit.’ I grabbed Terrance and held him to my chest with his back to me. I pulled up his shirt and I could see the bullet hole in his stomach.”
Lancaster said that Bethea ran into the house yelling for his keys while he shouted for someone to call an ambulance. Danielle Durel moved her car, which Bethea drove off in, then helped Lancaster get her wounded husband into the car Lancaster had been driving. She sped off toward Eastern Maine Medical Center before Lancaster could get in the car and go with her, he said.
The Las Vegas man testified that he never heard his friend threaten Bethea or Danielle Durel, who now uses her maiden name Lane, or the boy. Lancaster said Terrance Durel was concerned because his son had said he wasn’t allowed to eat much food at home because it was for Bethea.
Earlier Monday, the boy, nicknamed “Bubby,” testified that his father became angry after he told him that “Prince” had been cooking some “white bubbly stuff” in the kitchen that gave him a headache. He also testified before Lancaster took the stand that his mom and “Prince’s friends” were at the apartment every day.
Lawyers in opening statements did not tell the jury that drugs were made, used or sold at the Highland Avenue apartment.
Dressed in matching red and blue pants and jacket and bright red sneakers, the boy testified that he was in his bedroom when he heard three gunshots that Easter Sunday. After that, he ran into the living room alone and began jumping up and down and crying. “Bubby” also said that he did not see what happened outside.
Assistant Attorney Donald Macomber said in his opening statement that Bethea intentionally shot Durel. Then, instead of calling police or an ambulance for help, Bethea drove to Lane’s father’s home a few miles away.
“He got rid of the gun, shaved off his dreadlocks, grabbed a safe and fled the state,” the prosecutor said.
Bethea was arrested May 21 in Euclid, Ohio, during a traffic stop, Macomber said. He has been held without bail since then.
Tzovarras, however, told jurors that the victim’s text message to his estranged wife was threatening and upset her.
“Antoinne Bethea was trying to protect himself and his girlfriend when the gun went off,” Tzovarras said in his opening statement. “He didn’t intend to shoot this man. He was acting in self-defense.”
Bethea panicked and fled, not because he was guilty of a crime but because of his prior interactions with police in New Haven, and because he was scared, Tzovarras said.
The trial is expected to resume Tuesday morning with testimony from a neighbor who witnessed the shooting.
The trial before the jury of 11 men and four women, including three alternates, is expected to last two weeks.
Last week, Bethea rejected an offer from prosecutors to plead guilty to manslaughter in exchange for a prosecution recommendation that he serve 25 years.
If convicted of murder, Bethea would face 25 years to life in prison.
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