Prosecutor: Holmes case revenge-based
- Trial began Monday for a former soldier charged with attempted murder in York County in 2013.
- Defense attorney Jonathan Crisp said the defendant, Rico Holmes II, was injured in Afghanistan.
- D.A.: Holmes befriended a Dillsburg man while assigned to Walter Reed Hospital in Bethesda, and things evolved.
Senior deputy prosecutor Jonathan Blake told a freshly impaneled jury Monday the attempted murder case they were about to hear centered on revenge, and that the defendant, Rico Carty Holmes II, is the mastermind behind it all.
Holmes, 26, is a U.S. Army veteran who while assigned to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, in December 2013 was the alleged ringleader of a four-man group that police say committed two home invasions in York County, leaving one man beaten and another shot twice in the back.
Holmes, seated between his two defense attorneys, scribbled often in his notepad as the lawyers took turns cross-examining state's witnesses.
The charges against Holmes include attempted homicide, robbery inflicting serious bodily injury, burglary, aggravated assault, criminal trespass, simple assault and endangering the welfare of another person.
Holmes initially pleaded guilty, as did three co-defendants. The youngest — Joseph Tyrone Henderson, of Alexandria, Virginia, who was 17 at the time of the incidents — was sentenced to six to 12 years in prison for his role in the crimes. Holmes and the two remaining co-defendants later withdrew their pleas, electing to face trial by jury.
Testimony: The case against Holmes centers on a fight he had with some teenagers from York County he met at a party in Dillsburg in November 2013. Holmes was brought to the party by an acquaintance he made while stationed at Walter Reed in Bethesda. The acquaintance, Brendan Lee Seamans, 21, was the Commonwealth's first witness Monday.
Seamans, who is from Dillsburg, said he met Holmes at Walter Reed while he was there visiting his brother who was receiving treatment at the hospital for leukemia. After a month or so of hanging out, Seamans began bringing Holmes up to York County to meet and attend parties with friends.
It was at one such party that Seamans introduced Holmes to Trenton Stevens. The party, being held at Stevens' father's house, where he lived, got out of hand, and Stevens asked everyone to leave. Holmes took offense to something Stevens said, Seamans testified, which led to a fight between the two of them.
Another friend, Kevin Gachelin, who later heard about the fight between Stevens and Holmes, confronted Holmes and they then fought. Seamans said Holmes was losing the fight and calling for help, so he intervened only to be bested by Gachelin also. After Seamans and Holmes left, they returned to the Econo Lodge on Route 15, where Holmes had a room. Gachelin tracked them down there, and when Seamans refused to answer the door, he shattered the rear window of Seamans' car, according to testimony.
Seamans told the jury that he and Holmes were "pissed off" at having both lost fights with Gachelin, and that Holmes wanted revenge against both he and Stevens from the earlier fight at the party. Over the next few weeks, they planned to come back at another time to fight both of them, Seamans said.
Revenge: On Dec.7, 2013, Holmes made good on the threat, Seamans testified, and then some.
According to his testimony, Seamans got a text from Holmes saying he was coming up from Maryland and they should meet up. Seamans set the meeting at the Wendy's in Dillsburg for about 11:30 p.m. To his surprise, he said, Holmes was not alone. Instead, he arrived at the fast food eatery driving his brother's gold GMC Yukon Denali. With him were his brother, Leonard Hayes, 21, of Fairfax, Virginia, Andre Jamal Highsmith, 20, of Alexandria, and Henderson.
Both Holmes and Hayes had handguns in their laps, Seamans said. Highsmith and Henderson carried aluminum bats.
Seamans said he was first forced to drive his car to Stevens' home with the armed foursome following behind him in the Yukon. The foursome went in while Seamans waited outside, he said.
While inside, the four men allegedly beat and duct-taped Stevens and his girlfriend, Megan Montrese. Two of the men stayed downstairs, covering the two victims, while the other two went upstairs and ransacked Stevens' father's bedroom and gun collection, making off with two AR-15s, an AK-47, another long gun and more than 5,000 rounds of ammunition. Montrese, who also testified in court Monday, said the men wore all black clothing, gloves and masks, but one of them kicked Stevens repeatedly in the face as he lay defenseless on the floor, his hands duct-taped behind his back.
She said Stevens called out and said the name "Rico" as he begged the man to stop kicking him.
When challenged by defense attorney Jonathan Crisp as to why he didn't call the police, either before the first home invasion or immediately after, Seamans said he was threatened by Holmes. He said Holmes told him they could either go to Stevens' house and do what they came to do, or they could go to Seamans' house and do it there. Seamans took that as a direct threat, he said, not only to himself but to his family.
"This is my family," Seamans said on the stand. "I had to defend my family."
At another point during his exchange with Crisp, Seamans again defended his not taking steps during or after the two attacks to notify police.
"The guy is a murderer, a potential murderer," Seamans exclaimed on the stand. Court of Common Pleas Judge Michael E. Bortner ordered that comment stricken from the record and ordered the jury to disregard it.
From Stevens' house, Holmes allegedly forced Seamans to lead the two-car convoy to Gachelin's apartment in Franklin Township. Seamans said he again waited in the car. He only learned later what happened inside.
According to police reports, the foursome went inside Gachelin's house, surrounded him as he slept in his bed and beat him with their guns and fists. When he overpowered Holmes and the others enough to try to escape, Holmes shot Gachelin in the back twice, the reports say.
Blake told the same story to the jury during his opening statements.
"The defendant shot him in the back. ... Attempted murder. ... Revenge," Blake said. "That's what this case is about."
Both Henderson and Hayes are expected to testify later in the trial. Dispositions of the cases against each them are being held over for court, according to court documents. Testimony resumes in Holmes' trial Tuesday, with Stevens as the state's next witness. Jurors have been told to report for duty at 8:45 a.m.