Attorneys in murder trial say challenge will be determining credibility of two witnesses


By Ed Runyan

runyan@vindy.com

WARREN

Jurors in the aggravated-murder trial of Shawn Hope will have to decide whether to believe two female drug addicts, who will testify that Hope shot John P. Kellar at a house on Stephens Avenue Northwest on Dec. 2, 2016, and kidnapped the women, including Kellar’s fiancee.

Prosecutors and an attorney for the defense agreed in opening statements Monday in Trumbull County Common Pleas Court that judging the truthfulness of the two women will be crucial to deciding whether Hope, 51, will be convicted.

Hope could get life in prison without the chance of parole if the jury finds that he killed Kellar with prior calculation and design.

Tabitha Powell, 23, fiancee of Kellar, 41, was the first witness, tearfully testifying that she, Kellar and Alicia Binion, 37, were staying at Binion’s father’s house on Stephens Avenue when the killing occurred.

Powell said she, Kellar and Binion were drug abusers around the time of the shooting. She and Kellar used drugs earlier the day he died, she said.

Hope was a friend of Binion’s, and he had ridden his bicycle to hang out at Binion’s house about five times before the shooting, Powell said.

On Dec. 1, Kellar got angry at Hope because Kellar believed Hope was “hitting on me,” Powell testified. “They started arguing about it,” but the argument ended fairly soon, and they went back to being friendly, Powell said.

The next night about 6:15 p.m., when Hope knocked on the door, Binion didn’t let Hope enter, Powell said. Eventually, Kellar told her to “let him in,” and Hope walked toward Kellar, and Kellar walked out of the bedroom into the hallway.

Hope “pulled out a gun and shot him twice,” Powell said.

“He says, ‘Who’s the [deleted] now?” Powell testified.

Hope then grabbed Powell by the hair and demanded the keys to her white conversion van, Powell said. Binion gave the keys to Hope, who put his bicycle in the back of the van and ordered Powell to drive. Binion was in the front passenger seat.

Hope ordered Powell to drive to a house nearby, where he had both women lay face-down on the front porch and asked a friend living there for bullets, but the friend didn’t give Hope any.

Hope then drove to a Warren store for cigarettes and then to Rocky’s AM PM Food Mart on West Market Street, leaving Powell in the van while he and Binion went in.

Powell ran from the van and asked a woman living across the street from Rocky’s to call 911, which she did. Hope and Binion got on the Ohio Turnpike, where Hope left his gun near a Toledo exit, prosecutors said.

They went to Detroit, where Hope had criminal convictions in 1994, 2001, 2004, 2006 and 2012, according to court records.

Binion remained in the Detroit area a couple weeks before Hope let her go, Chris Becker, assistant county prosecutor, said during opening statements.

Matt Pentz, one of Hope’s attorneys from the Ohio Public Defender’s Office, said one of the primary issues jurors will have to decide is whether “Binion is believable at all.” He added that jurors will learn that Kellar was “a dangerous guy.”

The trial resumes at 1 p.m. today with Powell continuing her testimony.

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