KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — The trial of three teens charged with the attempted murder of two Knoxville students as they were leaving school in 2021 began this week in a Knox County courtroom. On Wednesday, the first few witnesses in the case took the stand.
Tanner Rice had reported his Honda Pilot stolen on Jan. 13, 2021. That silver Honda Pilot is the vehicle that the three suspects, Rashan Jordan, Ahmad Gatlin, and Deondre Davis were believed to be traveling in when the shooting occurred.
The three teens are on trial for the attempted murder of 17-year-old Johnkelian “John John” Mathis and an unidentified female. The suspects are accused of shooting at the two on Jan. 14, 2021 as they drove away from Austin-East Magnet High School. The two victims took cover in a gas station bathroom located on Cherry Street and Magnolia Avenue.
While Mathis was not injured that day, he was later killed in a shooting in August 2021 in a case that remains unsolved.
Two familiar faces took the stand in the trial this Friday morning for the state. Shannon Morris with the Knoxville Police Department was called by the state as an expert in digital forensics. Morris broke down each of the three defendants’ phones, showing pictures and videos of the defendants with guns. Then the state recalled Lt. Brian Dalton with the KPD. We introduced him to you yesterday. He spoke about how the pictures of the guns found on the defendants’ phones matched with some of the guns recovered.
The state rested their case shortly after 10 a.m. on Friday. Then it was the defense’s turn.
The defense made a motion for acquittal due to lack of evidence, however, it was denied by the judge.
The defense called a digital forensic expert as well as a firearm and tool mark examinations expert. Kaisa Lynch, the firearms expert, was on the stand for about 30 minutes.
The court adjourned around 4 p.m. on Friday with the trial set to start again on Monday at 9 a.m.
Court resumed around 9:30 on Thursday morning. Lieutenant Brian Dalton with the Knoxville police department was back on the stand after being called by the state on Wednesday. The state didn’t finish their testimony so it continued on this morning.
Dalton walked the jury through photos of the shell casings found at the Exxon and Jarnigans. The shell casings that were found at the Honda pilot matched the shell casings that were recovered at the Exxon. He went on to explain to the jury that each casing was found and matched to specific firearms.
His testimony lasted nearly three hours.
John John Mathis’s family was in the courtroom on Thursday. Some had sweatshirts on with his image on them. They were escorted out of the courtroom and allowed back in with the image covered up with another jacket.
Because of this, the defense asked for a mistrial. The judge declined the state’s motion.
The next witness to take the stand was Azley Mills, Mathis’s girlfriend and alleged second victim. She sustained an eye and shoulder injury in the shooting.
Mills and Gatlin grew up around each other. She told the court she knew Davis and Jordan through social media but never hung out with them. She pointed at each defendant out to identify them.
Mills said something happened at school that had nothing to do with Mathis or her. They left school to drop friends at Jarnigans and then they headed to work. Mathis was driving and Mills was in the passenger seat. She said by the second shot they knew they were getting shot at because the back windshield shattered. She explained that they went to the Exxon because two tires on her side popped.
Honda Pilot owner Rice said on Wednesday in court that when he got his car back, there was a shell casing in the driver-side floor; he also noted bullet holes in the car, as well as a phone named “Go Krazy” connected to the Bluetooth, which did not belong to Rice.
His testimony lasted 15 minutes.
A second witness, Rachel Warren was also called to the stand Wednesday. Warren is a Knoxville Police crime scene technician with the Forensic Unit. She was called to the Exxon gas station back in January 2021 to collect and photograph evidence.
She showed a map of where the bullets were found, as all as photos of the shell casings at the gas station and the black Infiniti Mathis was driving.
Another witness called to the stand on Wednesday was Jonathan Clabough, who is a violent crime detective with the Knoxville Police Department.
Clabough tells the court he was a responding officer on January 14, 2021. He responded to the Exxon located on Magnolia and Cherry Street. The two victims ran into the Exxon bathroom to take cover from the gunfire. During his testimony, the prosecution played body camera footage Clabough was wearing that day when responding to the scene.
Mills sustained an eye injury and a shoulder injury in the shooting. Clabough told the court he searched Mathis as well as told one of the investigators on the scene that Mathis was willing to talk with law enforcement
Following Claybough’s testimony, several detectives, and crime scene technicians took the stand for the state.
The jury select process spanned a day and a half. Opening statements for the trial began Tuesday afternoon. During the opening statement, prosecutors showed the jury maps of the car chase and pictures of the car Mathis was driving that had several bullet holes and a back windshield shot out.
The defense told the jury during opening statements that this case is based on misidentification. Prosecutors called two witnesses to the stand before the jury was sent home for the day.
All three defendants were under the age of 18 at the time of the January 2021 shooting and have since been transferred from juvenile court to face trial as adults. Jordan and Davis are serving life sentences for the murder of Stanley Freeman Jr., another Austin-East student who was shot and killed in 2021.
Jordan is now 17 years old. Davis and Gatlin are now 19 years old.