Following conflicting testimony from partygoers about whether he had a gun or not, a Hobbs magistrate judge found sufficient probable cause Friday to bind over for trial the one person charged thus far in connection to a recent mass shooting in Hobbs.
A New Mexico Junior College student-athlete from Chicago testified before Magistrate Judge Craig La Bree Friday at a preliminary hearing morning that she saw Bishop Henderson III, 19, shooting a gun into the air at the Aug. 25 backyard party on the city’s east side — at which three young adults were killed and four others were wounded.
Henderson’s girlfriend, his cousin and another partyßgoer testified they never saw Henderson with a gun at the party, and they did not see him shoot anyone. According to court records, Henderson was DJing a backyard party at the East Bond Street home the early morning of Aug. 25 when he pulled out a handgun and opened fire.
The prosecutor said Henderson initially denied bringing a gun to the party, but when confronted with video evidence by a Hobbs police detective, Henderson allegedly changed his story and admitted he had brought a handgun, and said he “didn’t mean to shoot anyone.”
J. Michael Thomas, chief deputy District Attorney for Lea County, said investigators learned Henderson took the gun from the party and hid it in a safe at his home. Thomas grilled Henderson’s girlfriend, who repeatedly testified Henderson did not have a gun at the party, while admitting that she knew he owned a gun.
New information that came to light during Friday’s 2 1/2 hour preliminary hearing included testimony from police that Khalil Carter, 18, of Hobbs, — one of three people shot and killed at the party — had a loaded handgun in his waistband when he was fatally shot.
Henderson’s defense attorney, Jon C. Fredlund of Hobbs, told the News-Sun after the hearing that the backyard shooting began as a drive-by shooting. Evidence backing up the defense theory included some of the ballistics testimony from police, which determined that shots were fired at the East Bond Street home from a nearby alley, striking a fence at least twice.
Henderson, dressed in an orange jumpsuit and handcuffed, sat attentively throughout Friday’s hearing. The courtroom was tense, with occasional tears from the families of the victims. Henderson’s family sat behind him and his attorney with defense witnesses, with family members of the victims sitting on the other side of the courtroom.
Security was tight, with as many as eight uniformed officers providing courtroom security at one time, while witnesses waited outside the courtroom to testify.
Thus far, Henderson is the only person charged in connection to the backyard shooting in which Carter, 24-year-old Kristal Avena of Hobbs and 22-year-old Lamar Lee-Kane Jr. of Washington, D.C. were killed.
Henderson is presently charged with one count of aggravated battery with a deadly weapon, a third-degree felony, for his alleged shooting of 20-year-old Turon Windham of Chicago, one of four young adults who were shot and survived. Windham’s mother, in town from Chicago, was comforted at times by court personnel as she shed tears over her grievously wounded son.
The three people other shot at the party were Michael Major, 21, of Florida, Rontrell Hills, 23, of Houma, La., and Jasmine Stansell, 20, of Amarillo. They were were found in a truck about one mile from the Bond Street home.
According to the University of the Southwest website, Hills, Lee-Kane, Stansell and Windham were or had been students and athletes at the university. USW has established a memorial fund for USW victims and their families.
No murder charges have yet been filed in connection to the mass shooting, although police say the investigation is continuing and more charges are possible.
In New Mexico, only petty misdemeanor and misdemeanor criminal charges may be adjudicated in magistrate courts and all felony cases must be heard in district court or above. Henderson did not waive his preliminary hearing in magistrate court, resulting in the mini trial Friday.
Party-goer MoniQue Grant, the one witness who placed a gun in Henderson’s hand at the party, was the first witness called Friday. The New Mexico Junior College sophomore and national champion track star who hails from Chicago said she arrived at the party with four friends around midnight Aug. 25 and mingled with other NMJC students.
Grant said all was going well when shots rang out and the group of 50 to 60 party-goers headed toward a fence gate in the backyard.
“Everybody got stuck at the gate,” Grant said, adding she saw Henderson shooting into the air at the time. “He was running back and forth. He was shooting into the air toward the alley. He was really calm. I didn’t see anyone else with a gun. He was the only one I saw shooting into the air.”
While witnesses testified that drinking and marijuana smoking was occurring at the party, Grant said she did not drink or use any drugs before or during the party.
“I just don’t think that I need to get drunk or high to go to a party,” Grant testified.
Grant said the party was largely populated with NMJC and University of the Southwest students, and some locals she’d never seen before, including Henderson.
“We really didn’t think anything was wrong,” Grant testified. “We weren’t there very long at all.”
Grant said she heard a shot, followed by several more shots in sequence.
“I did not see him with my eyes shoot anyone, but I saw him shooting into the air,” Grant testified, describing the handgun and its magazine. “The whole party went down real quick. There were literally a stack of people on top of each other trying to rip the gate open.”
Grant said in the melee she went to assist Windham, whom police said was the first person shot.
“I felt like nobody was trying to help him out, everybody was trying to leave,” Grant testified. “My focus was definitely on him.”
Grant, dressed in NMJC track leggings and wearing a school ID around her neck, said she was initially reluctant to talk with police.
“I’m from Chicago. I’m raised not to talk to the cops,” Grant testified. “That’s just how it is.”
Hobbs police Detective Sgt. Ahmaad White testified that Henderson’s gun was found in the safe at his home. White said Henderson initially denied firing a gun at the party. White said Henderson later admitted he had taken the 9mm gun to the party and then stashed it in a safe at his home in the 600 block of East Broadway Street.
“At that time he said he didn’t mean to shoot anybody and there were people shooting at him,” White testified.
Key testimony came from HPD crime scene technician Jessica Quiroz. She testified 12 9mm shell casings were found in the backyard and three 9mm shell casings were found close together in a nearby alley, with an additional 9mm shell casing found in the alley a day later. A 9mm bullet was also recovered from one of those killed.
Two bullets were also recovered from the house at 1712 E. Bond St., and one bullet from the backyard, Quiroz testified. Quiroz also testified two bullets struck a neighbor’s fence, indicating the shots came from the alley.
HPD Detective Sgt. Mark Munro said a clip with a 30-bullet capacity was also recovered from the safe at Henderson’s home, with 14 live rounds left in the clip. Munro said 13 of the 14 remaining bullets in the magazine matched the caliber and brands of 11 of the 12 shell casings found in the backyard.
Munro said the locations of the shell casings indicated there were two different sets of shots in the backyard.
Munro said a loaded Glock 43 handgun with a magazine was found in the waistband of Carter, with six rounds in the magazine and one in the chamber. He testified it was unlikely Carter shot a bullet and reloaded the gun before being shot and killed.
“We found no empty magazines or casings on the scene matching Khalil’s bullets,” Munro testified. He said Carter was shot once in the top of the head.
Munro said all the shell casings and bullets recovered from the scene, as well as the two handguns of Carter and Henderson, have been sent to a state crime lab.
Munro testified the bodies of Carter and Lee-Kane Jr. were found by the home’s back door, while the body of Avena was found in the center of the backyard. None of the victims’ wounds indicted they had been shot at close range, Munro testified.
Taylor Miller, 18, Henderson’s girlfriend, was the first witness called by the defense.
Miller testified she arranged the going-away party for herself and Henderson, and that the party was held at the house of the grandparents of Henderson’s cousin, which police said is the home of Luis and Esmeralda Garcia.
Miller said she was standing next to Henderson when the gunfire erupted.
“It was chaotic,” Miller testified.
Miller said Henderson picked her up off the ground shortly after the gunfire began and the two of them ran away from the house. She said her boyfriend did not have a gun at the time, he hadn’t been arguing with anyone, and that she didn’t see anyone get shot.
Miller admitted she had been drinking hard alcoholic beverages before the party and had been playing beer pong at the party, where she said some people were smoking marijuana.
“Did you know Bishop had a gun that night?” Thomas asked.
“No,” Miller responded, clarifying that she meant he did not have a gun.
Eighteen-year-old Veronica Ross of Hobbs, also a student at NMJC and Henderson’s cousin, testified she did not see Henderson with a gun before the shooting began. Ross testified she believed the gunfire was originating from the alley, not the backyard, and she didn’t see anyone get shot.
“They were all trying to get out of the fence,” Ross testified of the party-goers.
The prosecution asked Ross if it’s possible Henderson did the shooting.
“No, sir,” Ross testified. “I wouldn’t think it was him because he threw the party.”
Nineteen-year-old Zayon Hernandez, also a NMJC student, testified Henderson has been a life-long friend of her family. Hernandez said there was no indication prior to the shooting of something tragic looming. Hernandez testified the initial shots sounded like they came from the alley, while the subsequent shots sounded closer.
Hernandez said once the shooting began, Henderson did not have a weapon and he was holding his girlfriend. Hernandez admitted Henderson carries a gun.
“I know he has a gun, but I didn’t see no gun in his hand,” Hernandez testified.
Thomas said Henderson’s reported statement that he didn’t mean to shoot anybody, and that he allegedly stashed the handgun at his house after the shooting, were ample probable cause to bind Henderson over to district court.
Defense attorney Fredlund said only one witness testified Henderson had a gun at the party. He noted none of the witnesses testified Henderson pointed or shot the gun at anybody.
Fredlund said the shooting initiated in the alley, there had been no problems or issues beforehand, and those killed and wounded were not victims of Henderson. Fredlund said the testimony from the crime scene technician “does not bolster the state’s claim.” Fredlund asked the charge against Henderson be dismissed.
However, La Bree ruled there was sufficient probable cause to bind Henderson over for trial in district court.
Henderson is being held without bond pending trial after District Judge Mark Sanchez granted a pre-trial preventative detention motion last week.
Prosecutors said in court records Henderson has a “substantial juvenile history” including a conviction for commercial burglary. His juvenile probation was revoked for violations that included leaving home without permission, committing a battery, and taking a stolen .380 caliber handgun to school. After his juvenile probation was revoked, Henderson was remanded to the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department for a year.