The evidence in the death penalty trial against accused murderer Pablo Maldonado rested Thursday afternoon without the defendant taking the stand to testify.
After listening to hours worth of recorded interviews with Maldonado, the state rested their case at 11:42 a.m. The defense began bringing in their witnesses in the hope that jurors would agree that although Maldonado was there when the murder occurred; he did not take part in the actual killing of 53-year-old Tim Clements.
After several mentions throughout the trial of a U-Haul rental and a man named Jonathan Harris (aka J-Dawg) and his girlfriend, jurors finally heard from a representative of U-Haul. She confirmed that Harris' girlfriend at the time of the murder had rented a U-Haul cargo van for one day on June 12, 2009 - the day Clements was killed - and didn't return it until June 16, 2009 - with over 400 miles driven in four days. The defense has questioned the state's witnesses on several occasions as to whether or not this truck could have been used to dispose of Clements' lawn equipment, the majority of which has never been recovered. The exact van could not be investigated, since it was sold at auction in September 2009.
The defense also called Mike Anderson, a one-time friend and self-proclaimed mentor of Maldonado. Anderson lived in the same apartment complex as Maldonado's sister and met him there in 2008. It wasn't unusual for Maldonado to come by and chat with Anderson, but when he arrived on June 12, 2009 with three other people (identified by Anderson as Harris Christian Caldwell and Brittney Beasley), he said that Maldonado was "nervous" and "jittery." While the rest of the group chatted, Maldonado stayed silent. Eventually Anderson took him outside where he said, Maldonado confessed that something had happened that day to Clements.
Anderson said that Maldonado told him, in courser language, that he had messed up and told the others that Clements carried a large amount of money with him, and that the group had made a plan to rob his boss. He said Maldonado told him that he didn't need money but that the others had "convinced him to do it."
He said Maldonado was a follower, not a leader, and that when he talked about what happened to Clements he cried.
"He said that in the process of the robbery Tim turned to him and said he knew that he [Maldonado] had to be a part of it," said Anderson, testifying that Maldonado was hurt because of that. He also said Maldonado told him that an argument ensued between he and Clements and "the younger gentleman [Caldwell] hit him in the back of the head twice, killing him."
Anderson testified that Maldonado asked him what he should do and he told him he had three choices, "fire a bullet in his head, be a coward and run or do the right thing by Tim and turn himself in and tell what he'd done." He said the last time he saw Maldonado it was his understanding that he was going to turn himself in.
The final witness for the defense was Roy Cooper, sworn in as an expert witness in forensic document examination. Several letters have come up during the course of testimony, and while co-defendants Caldwell, Beasley and Katria McClain had admitted to writing some letters, they had denied writing others - specifically ones that exonerated Maldonado from the murder of Clements. Cooper testified that after comparing several of the letters to known handwriting of Maldonado's and the co-defendants, many of the letters that had been denied had similarities and were likely written by the co-defendants and not Maldonado.
Under cross-examination by District Attorney Layla Zon, Cooper did admit that he had never worked for the FBI or similar agencies, though he had done work for the police department in Chattanooga, Tenn.
The defense rested just after 4 p.m. with Maldonado electing to not testify in his own defense. The jury will hear closing statements in the case at 9 a.m. Friday morning in the courtroom of Judge Horace Johnson.