|Updated: 6/19/2012 9:13 am
||Published: 6/18/2012 7:41 pm
Jury selection is underway in the trial of a man accused in a murder-for-hire plot.
Jury selection started Monday for accused triggerman Terrico Bethel, and will continue on Tuesday. Five people were arrested in the conspiracy killing of Neal Sweeney. Bethel is the first of three to face trial.
Prosecutors say the Sweeney case is about greed, revenge and conspiracy.
On September 4th, 2008 Retail Fuels owner Neal Sweeney was gunned down in his East Tulsa office.
“It sounded like hammers, ‘boom, boom’ and the receptionist started screaming,” said a witness the day of the murder.
Sweeney was more than a businessman; he was a family man and a University of Tulsa Hall of Fame football star.
"He is the friend that’s there when others walk away,” said Sweeney’s close friend, Dave Rader, in a 2008 interview.
Police released a sketch of the triggerman and the white cargo van he was driving when he fled the scene.
The case led Tulsa Police homicide investigators out of the state.
In February 2009, police found the white van abandoned in a midtown apartment complex. It had been stolen from a Muskogee dealer around the time of the Sweeney murder.
In June 2009, Terrico Bethel was the first person charged in the case. He was already in jail on a separate case.
"Over a period of time, a business relationship that Neal Sweeney had with someone in the community went bad. And that the person, we believe, hired Terrico Bethel to kill Sweeney,” said Major Matt Kirkland after Bethel was charged.
Aziz is the accused mastermind who prosecutors believe paid Bethel, Alonzo Johnson, and brothers Fred and Allen Shields a total of $10,000 to plan and execute Sweeney’s murder.
Police say Aziz owed Sweeney money for fuel delivery. Records show an unnamed witness told police Aziz became increasingly angry and bitter towards Neal Sweeney and Sweeney’s business partner ad blamed the men for financial problems.
Records show Aziz paid $5,000 up front, $2,000 to Johnson and the rest in installments made inside his north Tulsa store.
Since 2010, Fred Shields and Johnson allegedly tried to conspire from jail to kill the lead homicide detective, Mike Huff, and Tulsa County District Attorney, Tim Harris.
Allen Shields agreed to testify against the other defendants in exchange for no prison time.
"We entered into this. It is an extraordinary murder-for-hire case, contract case. This was agreed upon to pierce the conspiracy, in our opinion, to obtain justice. Extraordinary cases call for extraordinary decisions, and this certainly was an extraordinary decision,” said Tim Harris after Shields’ plea agreement in October 2010.
However, Allen Shields killed himself in a police standoff at his estranged girlfriend’s house in April 2011.
Prosecutors plan to use Allen Shields’ transcript testimony in all the trials.
On January 30th, Aziz was given a plea deal for his testimony. He will be the prosecution's key witness in Bethel's trial. If his testimony is truthful he could get 35 years in prison instead of life.
“What we want to do is hold each of these four defendants accountable with a significant amount of prison time,” said First Assistant District Attorney Doug Drummond after the plea agreement.
The Sweeney family was consulted before Shields' and Aziz’s plea agreements.
Jury selection will resume Tuesday at 9 am. Opening statements are expected to start in the afternoon.
There are more than 7,000 pages of evidence and the prosecution could call 57 witnesses including several police officers. Jurors may also hear cell phone and jail telephone conversations
Bethel has gone through four attorneys. He tried to delay his trial again on Friday by bringing up issues with his attorney, Sharon Holmes. She’s been defending Bethel since November 2011.
Johnson’s trial could start on July 5th and Fred Shields’ trial is scheduled for August 20th.
Prosecutors said if Aziz testifies truthfully, he’ll be sentenced after the trials.
Security has also been heightened. Another metal detector is outside Judge Gillert’s courtroom.
"There are a lot of family members and other people that are associated with either side of the case and we want to ensure everyone's safety."
You also have to show a government issued I.D. to go into the courtroom.