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Once brothers: Co-defendant IDs Holmes
Leonard Hayes got off the stand inside the York County Court of Common Pleas on Tuesday afternoon and used his handcuffed arms to shield his eyes from the gaze of his co-defendant, Rico Carty Holmes II.
Minutes earlier, Hayes had done what no other witness for the state had so far been able to do in the attempted murder case against Holmes: He positively identified the defendant as the shooter.
Before that, the victims in the case could only identify Holmes by his voice, something the defense had been trying to poke holes in each time they had a chance to cross examine one of them.
All defense attorney Jonathan Crisp could do as Hayes — shackled and wearing an orange prison jumpsuit — shuffled past the defense table was put his hand on Holmes' shoulder and squeeze.
Holmes is charged with the Dec. 7, 2014, home invasions and assaults of two York County men, one of whom was only 16 at the time, and a woman in what senior deputy prosecutor Jonathan Blake told jurors earlier in the case as a revenge-based conspiracy.
Hayes testified Tuesday that Holmes directed that conspiracy, and that it was Holmes who led the planning and execution of the break-in, assault and robbery at 157 Whiskey Spring Road in Carroll Township and the subsequent break-in, assault and shooting at 1 S. Baltimore St. in Franklin Township, the night of Dec. 7 into the morning of Dec. 8.
The emotion in the courtroom immediately following Hayes' testimony was palpable. Hayes said he and Holmes were once like brothers.The two were so close, in fact, earlier witnesses testified that they thought Holmes and Hayes were brothers.
"It turns out they are not blood relatives," Pennsylvania State Police Cpl. Jonathan Colarusso said.
Colarusso investigated part of the case against Holmes along with Detective William Haller of the Northern York County Regional Police Department.
Background: According to police, court records and previous testimony, the case involving Holmes, Hayes and two other young men from Virginia all started in 2013, when Holmes was stationed at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. It was there that Holmes befriended a Dillsburg native, Brendan Seamans, who was at Walter Reed visiting his sick brother. The two became friends and made trips to Seamans' hometown to attend parties and hang out.
In November 2013, one of those parties got out of hand, and Seamans and Holmes were asked by Seamens' friend Trent Stevens to leave. According to his own testimony, Stevens was then struck in the face by Holmes. Not long after, Kevin Gachelin, a mutual friend of Stevens' and Seamans', got wind of the assault and confronted Holmes, whom he had not met before.
Gachelin, who also testified Tuesday, said he pulled up to where Seamans' car was in a Dillsburg neighborhood and confronted Holmes, but the two men did not fight at that time. A short time later at another location, Gachelin again pulled up to another frequented Dillsburg hangout, and Seamans and Holmes were already there. Gachelin said Holmes rushed him as he got out of his car.
Blake asked Gachelin to describe what happened next.
"We engaged in mutual combat," Gachelin said.
Gachelin said he fought off Holmes, then fought off Seamans, who jumped in. He later brandished a pellet gun he had in his car as the two men, already beaten, continued to hover around him, Gachelin said on the stand.
Following the fights with Stevens and Gachelin, Holmes was seething and seeking revenge, according to earlier testimony. He engaged in a phone conversation and series of texts with Gachelin, threatening him.
A couple of days before the home invasions for which Holmes and his co-defendants are charged, Holmes texted Gachelin again.
"Me and my big homie are crossing the PA state line," the text read."You gonna wish you were dead, on my mama," another text said.
On the night of Dec. 7, Holmes and Hayes, along with Andre Jamal Highsmith, 20, and Joseph Tyrone Henderson, both of Alexandria, Virginia, drove up to Dillsburg and met Seamans at an area Wendy's. From there, with Seamans forced to come along under the threat of violence, according to testimony, the men went to two spots, first to Stevens' home and then to Gachelin's.
Police said Stevens and a girlfriend were inside watching movies when Holmes, Hayes, Highsmith and Henderson forced their way in armed with handguns and aluminum bats. Stevens and the young woman, Megan Montrese, were bound with duct tape and beaten while two of the men went upstairs and raided Stevens' father's gun collection, stealing assault rifles and about 5,000 rounds of ammunition, according to police.
After throwing the two victims' cellphones in a wood-burning stove, the foursome left and forced Seamans to take them to Gachelin's house, police said. Again the four men went inside, leaving Seamans outside.
Gachelin testified Tuesday that he was awakened in his bed by a gun stock smacking him across the face. He was struck with bats and with what he assumes was a shotgun before fighting off his attackers and making a run for it. As he slipped past the lead attacker toward his open front door, Gachelin said he looked back over his shoulder.
"I saw the muzzle fire, the muzzle flash," he said. "Then I blacked out."
Brother against brother: Both Stevens and Gachelin said all four of their attackers wore masks and kept their faces hidden. They did not see Holmes but recognized his voice as he taunted them.
Crisp and co-counsel Eric Delp on cross examination worked to minimize the impact of each witness' testimony by getting them to admit they had only met Holmes once or twice before their respective attacks, and their conversations with him had been limited.
The damage after Hayes' testimony, however, had been done. And Highsmith, who is expected to testify Wednesday, might tell the same story.
"(Hayes) essentially testified that there was a conspiracy to plan this revenge against Kevin Gachelin," Colarusso said. "The four defendants went into the house, there was an assault on (Gachelin) and as he tried to flee the apartment, Rico Holmes was the individual who shot Kevin Gachelin."
Colarusso said the strain between Holmes and Hayes was visible in the courtroom.
"You could tell it was hard for him to tell the truth in open court knowing it significantly implicated or impacted his former friend, Rico," Colarusso said.
Holmes will not testify in his own defense, his attorney said. Nor will the defense put on any evidence after the state rests Wednesday.
"Our case has been our cross examination of the state's witnesses," Crisp said.
Crisp, who said he had not expected Hayes to point the finger at Holmes, hesitated to guess how the jury might have been influenced by Hayes' testimony.
"I learned to stop speculating a long time ago."