Verdict expected in Jazmine Barnes drive-by murder trial

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A jury will deliberate on Friday in the capital murder case against Larry Woodruffe, accused in the December 2018 drive-by shooting death of 7-year-old Jazmine Barnes.

The high-profile investigation made national headlines as Harris County law enforcement searched for his killer – starting first with a composite sketch of a man whose description did not match any of the defendants. ultimately charged with the girl’s death.

Woodruffe and co-defendant Eric Black were charged the following January with capital murder in that case.

Prosecutors began their closing arguments Friday with a focus on Jazmine’s mother, LaPorsha Washington, who testified earlier that she still had a bullet lodged in her arm from the drive-by shooting.

“LaPorsha Washington is having a nightmare,” prosecutor Alycia Harvey told the jury, prompting the mother to burst into tears. Amid sobs, she was led out of the courtroom.

Harvey explained how Harris County Sheriff’s Office investigators identified Black and Woodruffe as their suspects, after spending several days going down the “rabbit hole” the composite sketch opened up.

A tip led investigators to a silver rental vehicle linked to Black, she said, who investigators believe passed a Walmart security camera around the same time as the 911 calls linked to the gunfight poured in.

“Our tip is verified,” Harvey continued.

She reminded the jury that Black, the driver, felt so bad after learning that a child had been killed in the shooting that he drove to the church. Phone records confirmed the discovery and showed he had contacted his father and uncle to find a church, the prosecutor said.

Black, in custody, led investigators to a gun he hid under his mattress.

“It’s not a gun, it’s the gun that fits all these boxes,” Harvey said.

Judge Vanessa Velasquez repeatedly reminded defense attorney Paul Morgan to stick to the case in his arguments.

Morgan pointed to testimony that Washington and his teenage daughters did not see Woodruffe at the scene of the shooting and that the suspect, in their minds, was a white man they saw driving a red truck.

“They all told us that the man who shot Jazmine is not in this courtroom,” Morgan said.

He told the jury to focus on who shot Jazmine – and that doing so would factor into determining the reliability of Black’s testimony.

He wondered if Black had told investigators what they wanted to hear. Investigators had threatened him with the death penalty or life without parole – an interrogation tactic, he said.

“He’s testifying to save himself,” Morgan said.

Prosecutors have offered to reduce Black’s charge to murder following “truthful testimony” as a state witness in Woodruffe’s trial. As part of a plea bargain, the state would limit the sentence to 35 years. The sentencing would take place at a later hearing and a judge would decide the sentence.

The death penalty is not sought in the Woodruffe or Black case, officials said.

The trial began Tuesday on the role of emergency relief with testimony from first deputies who arrived at the scene, Jazmine’s mother and siblings, as well as forensic experts.

nicole.hensley@chron.com

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