An Akron man testified Monday that he thought his arch enemy — who had shot him in the past — was reaching for a gun when he opened fire.
“I was thinking, ‘He’s going to shoot me again. I’ve got to get mine first,’ ” Andre Warren said while on the stand in his murder trial.
Warren fired his revolver last year at Dominique Thomas, killing him. A man with Thomas was also shot but survived.
Warren is the first person in Summit County to claim self-defense in a murder trial since state law changed last month to put the burden of proof on prosecutors rather than the defense. This means prosecutors must prove the defendant wasn’t justified in using deadly force.
He was the lone defense witness in the weeklong jury trial, which will conclude Tuesday morning with closing arguments.
Warren, 28, faces numerous charges, including murder and felonious assault.
Bryan Darshawn Esters, 28, of Akron, a second man indicted for murder and other charges in the Thomas shooting, remains at large.
Thomas, 31, was shot about 11:20 a.m. July 1 when he exited a vehicle outside of Julian’s, a restaurant in the Goodyear Heights neighborhood where he planned to go to breakfast with his cousin, Monica Strickland, and her boyfriend at the time, Tra’Shaun Beasley.
The shooting was captured on surveillance cameras at the restaurant.
Those videos, played in court last week, show Warren firing his revolver after first Beasley gets out of the driver’s side of the vehicle and Thomas exits on the passenger side. Thomas ducked down on the passenger side and Beasley fell.
Esters also fired at the men, chased Thomas around the vehicle, and shot Thomas as he laid on the ground. Warren and Esters both fled.
Detective Kevin Davis testified that he didn’t see a weapon on Thomas on the video, though Thomas was carrying one and dropped it during the shooting. Davis said both Beasley and Thomas had their hands in front of them, walking, and made no aggressive moves.
Warren, however, gave a different account when he answered questions posed by John Greven, his attorney. He also discussed his longtime feud with Thomas.
Warren, who grew up in Akron and is a rapper, said the bad blood started after the mother of one of his four children testified against a relative of Thomas in a murder trial for the 2013 shooting death of a man outside a Rally’s restaurant.
Warren said someone — he assumes it was Thomas or one of Thomas' friends — shot at his car in January 2014, shattering the windows in the back and passenger side. He said the next day, Thomas pulled up beside him and fired a shot that struck him in the arm.
Warren said Thomas threatened him numerous times on social media. As a result, he said he changed his routine by no longer visiting family as much, not posting photos of family on social media and renting cars to throw off his enemies.
Warren was driving a rented Mustang when he went to Julian’s on the morning of July 1, 2018. He said he parked in view of the cameras just in case something happened. He said he argued with Sirvonte Rice, Thomas’ cousin, inside the restaurant and, as he left with a takeout bag, saw a car pull up with tinted windows.
Warren said the dark windows concerned him and he stood behind his vehicle with his hand on his gun until he saw who was inside. He said he didn’t know Beasley but recognized Thomas. He said he saw a gun hanging out of Thomas’ right pants pocket and Thomas reached his right hand toward the weapon. That’s when Warren said he started firing.
The courtroom was packed with family members of both Thomas and Warren, with several of them crying and comforting each other during Warren’s testimony.
His testimony got heated when Assistant Prosecutor Jay Cole pressed him on his motive and why he didn’t take other steps, like simply driving away.
“He just walks right into your lap,” Cole said. “You took advantage of that and killed him.”
“No, sir,” responded Warren.
Cole said no one besides Warren saw Thomas’ gun. He said Thomas’ gun fell out when he was “diving for his life.”
“You took care of business, didn’t you?” Cole asked at the end of his questioning.
“Basically, yeah,” Warren answered.
Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at 330-996-3750, email@example.com and on Twitter:@swarsmithabj.