Home International Gary man convicted in former girlfriend’s ‘19 murder

Gary man convicted in former girlfriend’s ‘19 murder

7
0

A jury convicted a Gary man late Friday on all counts in the murder of his former girlfriend in 2019, court records show.

Drew Carter III, 46, was taken into custody, records show. His sentencing is now set for July 17.

He was found guilty of murder; kidnapping while armed with a deadly weapon, a Level 3 felony; criminal confinement while armed with a deadly weapon, a Level 3 felony; and criminal confinement with bodily injury, a Level 5 felony.

He was also convicted after a short bench trial on firearms enhancements. At maximum, he would essentially face up to life in prison.

Police believe Jessica Flores, 36, of South Chicago Heights, Illinois, died sometime on Feb. 24 or 25, 2019.

A car she borrowed was later discovered torched with a pool of blood in the backseat. Flores’s body was not found for more than a year until her skull and vertebrae were discovered in April 2020 in Gary’s Brunswick Park.

“We’re so happy and thankful,” her sister Genesis Flores said Saturday. “Nothing’s going to bring her back. We’re really thankful he’s not going to be able to hurt anybody else, or take any more lives.”

Flores’ mother Adela Flores said via phone she was “ecstatic,” she said. “We asked God for signs and they were there yesterday.”

Carter’s lawyer Mark Gruenhagen said Saturday that hadn’t talked if Carter would appeal, but “I can’t imagine he wouldn’t.”

“Obviously, we’re very disappointed with the verdict,” he said. “Investigators had zero corroboration from any source.”

They presented a witness who admitted she was addicted to crack cocaine, had a flawed memory and lied during the investigation, Gruenhagen said.

On the stand Friday, Carter denied involvement in her death.

He met Flores sometime in 2018. They got involved, then he claimed they split because she struggled with drugs, but remained close.

He said he was headed to George “Sax” Heath’s house — a family friend — to drop off a plate of food after a death in the family. Flores and her friend showed up.

The two women got into a “full-on fight” before they were told to leave, Carter said. Flores wanted him to stay out and party, he said.

He and Flores had a “special bond,” Carter said.

Carter said he left after 1 a.m. and returned to his relative’s house. He said he had to work the next day.

He denied driving Flores’ borrowed Nissan, shooting her, setting the car on fire, tackling Flores’ friend after her death, or taking the witness to his relative’s house while leaving Flores’ body in the car parked outside.

That witness — Flores’ friend — admitted the women were smoking crack all night. Carter and Flores were arguing on-and-off. Prosecutors said there was “talk” of the three having sex.

“Can I (have sex with) her,” Carter asked Flores.

As Flores said, no, Carter, driving, turned around wearing one glove and shot her dead, the witness testified. She thought Flores had been shot in the chest, because the witness didn’t have any blood on her. At trial, the witness said she assumed it was the chest, but wasn’t sure. Flores’ skull was found with a bullet hole.

Her family said Saturday they were grateful to the witness. Without her, there wouldn’t have been a case, Flores’ mother Adela said.

She “stood her ground,” Genesis Flores said Saturday. “She was terrified on the stand. She did what she had to, did it for my sister and us. I’m sure so she could move on herself.”

Jessica “lit up a room” with her voice, smile and laugh, Genesis said. She was “spunky, happy,” adding she mothered her as a sister. “When she loves you, she smothers you with love.”

“I really do miss that,” Genesis said. “I would tell her to calm down.”

On Friday morning, Gary Police Det. Kris Adams, the lead investigator, testified. He said Carter was his “only suspect” after interviewing the friend and seeing a digital picture of him with Flores dated Feb. 25, 2019.

Investigators went out on two different searches with police, drones, and cadaver dogs in Gary in 2019 without finding Flores’ body.

Later, Adams said investigators found pictures of Flores on Carter’s cell phone and seven web searches from March 3 to 12, 2019 of a news article detailing the police missing person’s search for the two women.

Gruenhagen asked Adams if he found web searches of how to clean blood or hide a body in Brunswick Park.

No, Adams responded.

On the stand, the witness said Flores had hit her in the face at “Sax’s” house. Adams later admitted he learned that detail “here in court.”

In closing arguments, Deputy Prosecutor Eric Randall said Carter “executed” Flores. “What else could you call that,” he asked.

He alleged Flores and her friend “ruined” his plans to kill Pamela Crider, 42, of Hammond, who the witness knew as “Little Debbie” there at the house by “making a scene” and getting kicked out.

The witness, he told jurors, was “credible,” “believable,” and “told you the truth.”

“You don’t fabricate that story,” Randall said. “You don’t make it up.”

Gruenhagen told jurors the entire case hinged on the witness, was characterized by an incomplete police investigation and lack of scientific evidence tying Carter to Flores’ death.

How could the woman be in the backseat and not have any blood on her, he asked. The “laws of physics” didn’t stop that day, he said.

To convict, they would have to “believe” the Nissan drove around a block in Gary 20 times, but no one reported it. A car door that was just locked, unlocked before the woman bolted after the shooting. Or, that Carter parked at a relative’s home on a residential street and left a woman’s dead body inside a car and no one said anything.

Investigators never looked for a fireman the woman said she found just afterward she escaped from Carter’s relative’s house, nor a NIPSCO worker that gave her a ride, Gruenhagen said. There was no weapon, DNA, or fingerprints tying Carter.

When the woman later made it to a relative’s apartment, that person was skeptical of her story. In a deposition, the relative called the witness a “pathological liar” and found no blood when they washed her hair in the bathroom.

Chicago Police — who found the torched Nissan near 82nd and Ridgeland days after Flores disappeared — had no evidence tying Carter to it, the lawyer said.

“We’re here, because (the witness) said it happened,” Gruenhagen said.

Randall retorted that Carter was the only person who had a motivation to lie about what happened.

Judge Natalie Bokota oversaw the trial. Deputy Prosecutor Infinity Westberg was assigned with Randall. Co-counsel David O’Donnell assisted Gruenhagen.

On Feb. 26, 2019, Lake County Sheriff’s Department officers started to investigate the disappearance of two women from South Chicago Heights, according to the probable cause affidavit. One woman was found alive but Jessica Flores was reported missing on Feb. 24 when she was driving a white 2010 Nissan Altima, court records state. The Altima was found in Chicago, where it had been set on fire and a large amount of blood was found in the rear seat.

Flores’ family had received information that she was shot and killed in Gary before her body was dumped somewhere near Fifth Avenue, the affidavit states.

On March 6, detectives traveled to a Chicago tow yard to take samples of blood in the Altima, court records state. The next day, a search started for Flores, including a Lake County Sheriff’s Department drone, but she was not located.

On March 8, police spoke to Flores’ friend about the night Flores disappeared, the affidavit states, and she told police that she was hanging out with a friend in Gary for much of the day on Feb. 24 and leading into Feb. 25.

The pair went to the Gary home of someone named “Stacks” — a.k.a. “Sax” — and encountered a man named “Tiny” who drove them to the liquor store. When they returned, “Tiny” became angry, so Flores and her friend left, court records state.

“Tiny” followed them out and convinced Flores to let him inside the vehicle and promised to get them drugs, the affidavit states, and he took them to a house near 10th Avenue and Clark Road.

He drove them back to “Stacks” residence and when no one answered the door, “Tiny” made the pair get into the back seat, court records state. Flores and “Tiny” started arguing again and he stopped the car multiple times to turn around, records state.

The last time he stopped the car, he asked Flores if he could have sex with her friend and Flores said “no,” records state, so “Tiny” turned around and shot Flores once, which caused her to immediately slump to her right and start bleeding.

The second woman got out of the vehicle and her ears were ringing and she tried to run away but was tackled by “Tiny,” records state, and he drove her back to his relative’s residence and Flores’ body remained inside the vehicle. Eventually “Tiny” fell asleep and she escaped.

She told police that she was afraid for her life, the affidavit states. The woman identified Carter as “Tiny” from a photo lineup and detectives drove her to the 900 block of Morton Street in Gary, where she pointed to a particular residence as the one she escaped from and the last place she saw Flores’ body.

On April 9, 2020, Gary police were dispatched to the 700 block of Clark Road when a Gary Parks Department employee found a human skull in the woods of Brunswick Park. The top portion of the skull and lower jaw were collected, and the next day, another bone, which appeared to be a vertebra, was found in the same area, court records state.

Flores is survived by six children, according to her obituary.

Crider was found shot dead in the face in Gary on Feb. 27, 2019. Heath, 55, was found shot dead in March 2019, according to news reports.

[email protected]

Source link