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Defense witness gives tearful account of deadly shooting in Fishzilla murder trial

SALISBURY — During a tearful testimony on Friday afternoon, Andrea Dillard recounted the moment she thought her life was going to end.

“I really thought he was going to take my life,” Dillard said.

Dillard was referring to James Christopher Davis, who was fatally shot during a scuffle involving Dillard and Dedric Michelle Mason at the Fishzilla Arcade at 1812 E. Innes St. in April of 2018. Mason, 45, is facing charges of second-degree murder for killing Davis. Dillard was the first witness called to testify by the defense in the ongoing trial, which started earlier this week.

In the first few days of the trial, the prosecution, led by Assistant District Attorneys Barrett Poppler and Jennifer Greene, has used several witness accounts and evidence to build their case against Mason. The prosecution rested its case on Friday after calling three more witnesses to the stand, including two law enforcement officers and North Carolina’s Chief Medical Examiner Michelle Aurelius.

The first witness called to testify Friday was Sgt. Melissa DeBlasi of the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office, who was responsible for booking Mason into the Rowan County Detention Center when she was arrested days after the Fishzilla shooting.

When questioned by Greene, DeBlasi said she saw no sign of injuries on Mason, even though Mason said her stomach was bruised. While being cross examined by defense attorney Ryan Stowe, DeBlasi described Mason as “cooperative” and said she caused no problems during processing. DeBlasi also said she knew that bruising can take longer to appear on people who are Black.

The next witness called to the stand was Sgt. Travis Shulenberger of the Salisbury Police Department. He was the lead investigator in the Fishzilla shooting and has been present for the entire trial.

At the prompting of Greene, Shulenberger recounted the investigation and described three screenshots pulled from video that were shown to the jury. Shulenberger identified Mason as the shooter and Davis as the man being shot. Shulenberger also testified that he saw no injuries on Mason when he arrested her for second-degree murder a few days after the incident.

In his cross examination of Shulenberger, defense attorney Todd Paris used the same screenshots to confirm with Shulenberger that Davis was on top of Dillard at the time Mason appeared to have fired her gun. That directly contradicts the testimony given by Joshua Clawson a day earlier, in which he said that Davis was flat on his back on the floor when he was shot.

Paris also showed the jury Davis’ cellphone, which was entered as evidence by the prosecution earlier in the day. Clawson testified Wednesday that he saw Mason throw Davis’ phone across the arcade. He even pointed on video when he ducked to avoid the flying device. 

When questioned by Paris on Friday, Shulenberger said he didn’t see any damage on Davis’ phone case or on the phone itself and said the phone worked after it was taken into evidence following the shooting.

With Shulenberger’s testimony over, the prosecution brought the medical examiner to the stand.

Aurelius completed an autopsy on Davis on April 27, 2018, days after the Fishzilla shooting on April 21. Aurelius, who has testified over 40 times in state and federal cases, detailed what she observed while completing the autopsy.

Aurelius said she found two gunshot wounds and superficial lacerations, or scratches, on Davis’ back. One gunshot wound entered on his left side, near his chest and traveled down into his abdomen where it was lodged in his bowel. The other gunshot wound entered his upper left back, near his shoulder, and traveled toward the middle of his back. The gunshot wounds, Aurelius said, were the official cause of death.

Greene submitted several photos taken during the autopsy into evidence. When the photos were shown to the jury, Mason put her head down and covered her eyes with her hands. Aurelius testified she saw no injuries on either of Davis’ hands. There was, however, an internal injury to Davis’ neck. She also said there was no evidence of healing to the scrapes on his back and that no grain alcohol was detected in Davis’ body.

During his cross examination of Aurelius, Paris used himself as a model and asked the doctor to use sticky notes and a wooden pointer to demonstrate to the jury how the gunshot wounds entered Davis’ body. Stowe originally volunteered to model, but Paris stepped in because he is 6-foot-4, the same height as Davis.

Aurelius testified that her findings indicated Davis was not on his back when he was shot, but said she couldn’t account for Davis being curled up. The two bullets, Aurelius said, entered his body from a higher angle. Aurelius could not say for certain if Davis was kneeling when he was shot.

Once Paris finished his cross examination of Aurelius, the prosecution rested. The defense then made a motion to dismiss the charges of second-degree murder against Mason. In his motion, Paris said the prosecution did not have enough evidence and argued to Judge Lori Hamilton that there was no malice in the shooting. Hamilton denied the motion and the trial continued.

The first witness called by the defense was Dillard, who testified she and Mason entered Fishzilla on the night of the shooting without knowing Davis would be there. When prompted by Stowe, Dillard said she and Mason were “arcade hopping” and had come to Fishzilla from a nearby, similar facility.

Dillard denied having a romantic relationship with Davis. She said she met Davis’ longtime girlfriend, Cheviss Bennett, several weeks before the shooting when Bennett confronted Davis about walking Dillard to her car outside of Fishzilla.

Dillard testified that she and Mason sat at the table with Davis, Bennett and a man named Burlee Tobias Kersey because more people playing at a table increases the amount of money that can be won. There were two other tables in Fishzilla, but both were vacant when Mason and Dillard entered the arcade.

Contradicting testimonies given earlier in the week by witnesses for the prosecution, Dillard asserted that Bennett instigated the verbal argument around the table and was calling her and Mason names. Also contradicting earlier accounts, Dillard said it was Davis who knocked Mason’s phone out of her hand.

Dillard said Davis started the physical altercation by punching Mason and that he hit Mason more than five times. Mason, Dillard testified, did not hit Davis back. 

Dillard said Davis then attacked her and put his hand around her throat as she stepped back in the arcade. According to Dillard, Davis continued the attack when the two tumbled to the floor. Davis only released his hands off her throat when Mason shot him, Dillard said.

Although several witnesses for the prosecution testified that they did not believe anyone’s life to be in danger during the scuffle, Dillard said she thought her life was “about to be over.” 

By the time Stowe was finished asking questions, Dillard was using a tissue to wipe tears from her face. The prosecution will have a chance to cross examine Dillard when the trial resumes on Monday morning.

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