COVINGTON, Ga. - Saturday, June 18, 2016 was probably playing out like many others for Enrique Ramirez Trejo during his 25-year career at El Charro Mexican Restaurant. He locked up the store on Covington Bypass, walked across the parking lot to his 1999 Ford Expedition, climbed in and drove out heading home.
He stopped at the Shell gas station at the intersection of Covington Bypass and Hwy-36 to buy a couple of beers. While there, he was approached by then-16-year-old Antavian Love who was accompanied by two youths. Love talked Trejo into giving him and the two boys a ride.
Enrique Trejo would never make it home to enjoy his beers. Nor would he see his family again.
Antavian Love, now 17, was convicted Thursday of killing Trejo and dumping his body in a ditch before stealing Trejo’s SUV. His trial took three days.
Monday, April 10
The jury chosen to hear the case was selected late Monday afternoon. Alcovy Judicial Circuit District Attorney Layla Zon, Assistant District Attorney Tabitha Rogers and Defense Attorney Teri Doepke, of the Alcovy Circuit Public Defender’s office, spent the morning and early afternoon questioning 48 potential jurors before deciding on the eight women and four men, plus two alternates who would hear the case against Love.
After being selected and given instructions by Alcovy Judicial Circuit Judge Samuel Ozburn, the jury was dismissed for the day. The trial resumed Tuesday, April 11, at 9 a.m.
Tuesday, April 11
Attorneys for both sides presented opening arguments to the jury. Assistant District Attorney Rogers told the jury Trejo was doing a good deed when he gave Love and the two juveniles a ride from the Shell station the night of June 18 before being shot and dragged from his car and left on the side of the road.
Doepke told jurors the case was a horrible tragedy and reminded them Love was 16 years old when the crimes were committed.
After opening arguments, the prosecution began to methodically present its case, calling law enforcement and civilian witnesses to testify.
Jurors heard the recording of the 911 call made by a man on his way home from work who saw Trejo’s body lying in the ditch on the side of the road.
“Might have got hit but he could have got shot,” the caller was heard saying on the tape. “Lot of glass in the road.”
The caller told the 911 operator the body on the side of the road did not appear to be breathing.
The jury heard from the Newton County Sheriff’s Office (NCSO) deputies who initially responded to the scene and the NCSO crime scene technician who secured the evidence, including a .40 caliber shell casing found at the scene.
The jury also saw crime scene photos of Trejo’s lifeless body on the side of the road.
Jurors heard from Dr. Keith Lehman, of the State Medical Examiner’s Office, who testified Trejo suffered four gunshot wounds and a fifth superficial wound which the doctor speculated could have come from being grazed by a bullet.
He showed the jury photos of the wounds, including a head wound which he said showed stippling. He explained stippling occurs when the end of the gun is within 42 inches of the victim.
He explained the trajectory of the four bullets and testified that he removed two bullets from Trejo’s body. He told the jury all four gunshots would have been fatal.
Jurors also heard from the Covington Police Department (CPD) Officer Steve Swann who spotted Trejo’s stolen SUV with four occupants near the intersection of Brown Bridge and Turner Lake Roads the Sunday evening after the shooting.
Swann testified the vehicle refused to stop on Brown Bridge Road and turned into the Brown Bridge Crossing subdivision. In the subdivision, the vehicle eventually stopped and the four people ran from it. Another officer, Kenyatta Barnes, testified that he encountered Love and another male near the pavilion and baseball field in Turner Lake Park where he detained them at gunpoint and handcuffed them. NCSO Deputy Eric Almond testified he took custody of the pair and transported them to the Newton County Law Enforcement Center.
NCSO Investigator Jocelyn Detweiler testified she was the investigator on call and responded to the scene. She said Mr. Trejo was still wearing his El Charro work clothes and after leaving the crime scene, she went to the restaurant to look at security camera footage. The footage, shown in court, showed the victim locking up for the night, getting into his car and driving away.
Detweiler also testified that she got tag and vehicle identification information for Trejo’s SUV and put it into the Georgia Crime Information Center (GCIC). She also said that investigators checked security footage for businesses between the restaurant and Lower River Road, including the video from the Shell station at Covington Bypass and Hwy-36.
After testimony from law enforcement, jurors heard from the two youths with Love the night of the murder.
“He pulled out his gun and shot him.”
Those chilling words were spoken by the youth sitting behind the driver’s seat that Saturday night last June, describing the last seconds of Trejo’s life.
The 13-year-old testified that he and his cousin were sitting on the porch of the cousin’s house when Love, who he called “Tay” approached the pair and asked if they wanted to go to McDonald’s, offering to buy them food. When the cousins declined, the youth testified Love offered them money to go with him, and off they went.
According to the youth’s testimony, when they arrived at McDonald’s, it was closed. “Tay” suggested they walk across to the Marathon station at Hwy-36 and the Covington Bypass and ask for a ride home. The youth said after Love asked two people for a ride and was turned down, he suggested they walk diagonally across the intersection to the Shell station, where Love asked and was turned down by two more people.
Love is seen on the Shell station security video approaching Trejo as he walked to his 1999 Ford Expedition and talking for a couple of minutes before he and the two youths get in and the car leaves the station.
According to the youth’s testimony, Love told Trejo to keep driving past Puckett Street where both youths thought they were supposed to turn. The vehicle eventually turned onto Lower River Road.
The youth told the jury Love told Trejo he had left his phone on top of the car and to stop. After the car stopped, the youth testified Love stepped out of the vehicle and pretended to look for the phone, patting his pockets, before shooting Trejo.
According to the youth, who was 12 years old at time, after the first shot, Trejo tried to exit the vehicle, but “‘Tay’ shot him again.”
The other youth with Love that night, who was 13 years old at the time of the murder, offered the same testimony. Both testified Love dragged Trejo’s body from the vehicle and left it on the side of the road. Both testified Love threatened to kill them if they told anybody.
According to the second youth, who is now 14, Love told them, “If you snitch, I’ll kill you too.”
Neither youth told anybody what happened. Both testified they went home and went to bed. They said they got up on Sunday morning and went to church.
Thursday, April 13
The jury saw video of the interview of Love conducted by NCSO Investigators Brent Morrison and Jeff Alexander. After a period of questioning, Love admits to killing Trejo and taking his car.
“I shot the (expletive deleted) out of him,” he was heard saying.
He said he dragged Trejo’s body from the car by himself and he planned to use the car to go look for girls. During the lengthy interview, Love also told the investigators where to find the murder weapon.
Expert witness Kyle Wheelus, a firearms examiner with the Georgia Bureau of Investigations Crime Lab who examined and tested the weapon, had testified Tuesday that the Taurus .40 caliber pistol found by investigators in a jacket pocket in a closet at Love’s home was the weapon used to kill Trejo.
After the video, the prosecution rested. The defense rested without calling any witnesses.
During closing arguments, Doepke reminded the jury of Love’s age at the time of the murder. She also called into question the believability of the two teens with Love the night of the crime and questioned the interview of Love by investigators.
She thanked the jury for allowing Love to take advantage of his right to have a jury trial and asked they find him not guilty.
In her closing argument, Zon told the jury “lying, trickery and deceit” got Love into Trejo’s vehicle that night. Zon told the jury Love took the two kids along to make his story believable.
Zon told the jury Trejo’s was a cold blooded murder and Love had tossed a good man who was being kind to him to the side of the road like a piece of trash. She also reminded the jury of the overwhelming evidence in the case.
“Enrique Trejo,” she said, “deserves justice.”
It took the jury an hour to convict Love of the June 2016 murder of Trejo.
“I am appreciative of the jurors who served on this difficult case. While their verdict was just, it is unfortunate that the Defendant’s actions had permanent consequences for the Trejo family and for our community who lost a great man,” Zon said in an issued a statement after the verdict.
Doepke declined to comment.
“The family is grateful to the community for keeping us in their prayers and for all their support. We also thank the jury for their time,” Luis Trejo, son of the victim, said.
Love will be sentenced after a presentencing investigation ordered by the judge is conducted and a presentencing hearing is held.
In addition to three murder counts, Love was also convicted of armed robbery, aggravated assault, theft by receiving stolen property and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony.