Crime

Witnesses tight-lipped during Port Arthur murder trial

Someone may have witnessed the fatal shooting of Port Arthur man nearly three years ago outside of a nightclub in a high-crime area, but officials said nobody wants to talk.

Herbert Clark Jr. has been accused of killing Scharonn “TyV” Leroyce Cole, 41, near a nightclub on Dec. 2, 2018.

Testimony in the first-degree murder trial began Tuesday in Jefferson County Judge Raquel West’s 252nd District Court.

Jefferson County Assistant District Attorney Luke Nichols said Cole was unarmed and wanted a fist fight with Clark that night in the 400 Block of Procter Street.

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In painting a backdrop for the case in his opening statements, Nichols said several of the witnesses are not unfamiliar with law enforcement and the justice system, adding one is on probation and another is “about to be indicted” on heroin charges. He also said Cole, a convicted felon, was “not perfect.”

“That is the world this happens in,” he said. “This doesn’t happen in the light. These things happen in the dark of night with people who are a part of that lifestyle. (Hebert) Clark Jr. did shoot Cole. He had no justification. He is guilty.”

Defense attorney Wendell “Chip” Radford, reminded the jury that the state must prove Clark is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Radford told them if they are going to put someone in prison “for up to the rest of his life” that the witnesses should be credible.

“The state is going to call some witnesses, and I want you to judge their credibility,” Radford said. “Judge if they have reasons to lie … because you are the judge of the witness. Make them hold to that high burden.”

Three witnesses and three experts were called to the stand Tuesday.

Among them was a police officer, a crime scene investigator, an expert firearms examiner and a forensics pathologist. Cole’s daughter, a man who was in the club’s parking lot during the shooting and a woman who drove Clark to Dallas also were asked to testify.

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Port Arthur Police Officer Chad Morrison said a “large crowd” of more than 50 people had gathered by the time police arrived on the scene around 2:30 a.m. Cole, who had nine gun shot wounds, including in the back, was dead when Morrison arrived. He recognized Cole from a drug arrest the previous year.

Body cam footage recorded Morrison asking a crowd, which had “formed a circle” around Cole, to “back up” as he approached Cole’s body outside of Club Sistah’s in Port Arthur.

“Hey man, are you alright?” Morrison asked on the recording, but he received no response.

Morrison said the crowd yelled at him and refused to move as he tried to preserve the scene, which included shell casings but no weapon. Authorities said no one in the crowd volunteered first-hand information about what happened.

Tuesday’s testimony echoed bystanders’ potential lack of involvement.

Cole’s daughter Roylea Snownden said she was threatened outside the night club the weekend before her father was found dead in the street.

She and a friend were celebrating her brother’s birthday when Clark asked for her friend’s name and phone number. Clark, who Snownden believed was armed, accused her of interfering and began to cause a scene.

Snownden’s brother encouraged her to call her father, who ultimately stayed the night with her because he was worried.

“We never spoke again about it after that,” said Snownden, who was at home when she learned her father was killed about a week later.

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Through questioning Port Arthur resident Austin Sam, Nichols confirmed that Sam was in the parking lot with friends when he heard shots and saw a lot of running. He saw a “short guy” and a “big guy” — believed to be Clark and Cole, respectively — arguing. Sam confirmed it appeared the “big guy” was trying to fight and harm the “little guy.”

Sam, who remained largely unforthcoming through questioning, was subpoenaed for the trial.

“I don’t want to have no part in this,” Sam said.

He denied knowing Clark or seeing him the night of the shooting, but Nichols accused him of giving false testimony.

“I swear to God I have never seen him before,” the man said.

The state and the judge let the man, who is dealing with other legal issues, take a break to speak to his attorney.

“Austin, you took an oath this morning and all I want you to do and all you are required today is tell the truth whatever that is,” West said, admonishing him. “You do need to understand that if you are under oath and if you do not tell the truth you can get charged with a felony offense of perjury.”

After the break, Sam told Nichols that he has a family and nine children he takes care of that he cannot put in harm’s way, and it has been clear to him that he should not go to court. Sam didn’t specify who encouraged him not to speak in court.

Nichols said Sam previously had identified Clark using a photograph provided by police. But in court, Sam said police pressured him into talking and he told them he wasn’t sure it was Clark.

Sam confirmed he saw a person leave the scene of the shooting in a car that didn’t match the color of the vehicle Snownden said Clark was driving the weekend before.

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By late afternoon, Nichols called Port Arthur resident Elizabeth Le to testify. She said Clark, who she identified in court, came to her apartment complex around 3 a.m. Dec. 2, 2018, asking for her help in exchange for $300 to get to Dallas to “see a girl.”

Le had given him a ride a couple of times before.

“It was nothing odd,” Le said.

Clark, who was 31 at the time, was arrested in Dallas in February 2019 before being taken back to Jefferson County. West previously said he was convicted of manslaughter in 2009 and aggravated assault in 2017.

With those previous convictions, if Clark Jr. is found guilty, he faces a sentence of 25 years to life in prison, West said.

Written by Meagan Ellsworth

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