They further testified Wednesday that at least three of the teens had no part in the 36-year-old Mableton man’s death.
The testimonies came forth at an initial hearing for three of the four south Cobb teenagers in a case that has sparked nationwide attention among conservative bloggers and talk-show hosts who believe Chellew was the victim of a black on white hate crime.
At Wednesday’s hearing, however, the issue of race never came up.
Mableton residents Johnathan Donald Anthony, 18, Antonio Shantwan Pass, 18, and Kemonta Deandre Bonds, 18, and Jekari Oshay Strozier, 19, of Austell, all face charges of aggravated assault and felony street-gang activity related to the death of Chellew on June 30.
They are accused of starting a fight with Chellew in the Chevron station parking lot at 6211 Mableton Pkwy. in Mableton around 1:20 a.m. And while Chellew was attempting to escape, he ran into the five-lane highway, was pushed to the ground, knocked unconscious and hit by a car.
All four suspects have remained in the Cobb County jail without bonds since July 2, and after a collective hearing before Cobb County Magistrate Court Judge Philip Taylor Wednesday morning, that’s where Anthony, Pass and Bonds will remain.
Their attorneys elected not to pursue a bond at this time.
Strozier’s hearing was continued from Tuesday to an unknown date until he can be assigned an attorney.
Friend defends teens’ character
Jemilah Joseph, a friend of the three teens in court Wednesday, was one of about 15 people who attended the hearing, and she doesn’t think the allegations being brought against the young men are valid.
“I couldn’t see any of them getting into a fight,” Joseph said. “They don’t have any physical evidence that the three boys hit (Chellew). It’s not in their character to try and kill somebody.”
She believes Strozier, who investigators witnessed on surveillance video outside the gas station hitting Chellew, started the fight.
“I just feel like they were with him and it was the wrong time, wrong place type of thing,” Joseph said. “They are wanting to convict them as the ones fighting when they were trying to stop the fight.”
Joseph was also surprised to hear that the state alleges that the teenagers are part of a gang that calls itself “Re-Up.”
“They are not a gang,” she said. “They are just a group of boys that rap together and I feel like (the state) just called them a gang because they were all together.”
She said there is evidence of Re-Up being in a rap group on YouTube and in other social media websites.
State sticking to allegations
But the state does not agree.
Detective Matt Owen with Cobb Police, who testified during the hearing, said the gang-related charges were being brought forth because the young men had all been previously arrested in connection with what they refer to as gang-related acts outlined by the county’s gang unit.
He said they all admitted to being members of the Re-Up group and that social media websites like Twitter had photos of the boys associated with the group.
Owen explained in detail what evidence and information his department has been able to collect since Chellew was found dead last month, including clothing that police believe could be Chellew’s. Processing of the items has not been completed.
He also said they used witness testimony and surveillance video from inside and outside of the gas station to determine that Chellew, who was reportedly intoxicated, went inside the store and when he exited began waving a blue bandanna in the air and making references to the gang known as the “Crips.”
One witness who testified during the hearing, Nigel Clarke, admitted to walking up to Chellew and taking the bandanna out of his hand, but then he turned and walked away.
Video surveillance then showed Strozier approaching Chellew and throwing the first punch.
Owen said there was no evidence of Anthony, Bonds or Pass fighting Chellew on the video, but a witness told police that they were fighting the 36-year-old and chased him into the highway before attacking him again.
There was no surveillance footage of what happened outside a certain perimeter of the gas station, specifically in the highway.
Cobb County Assistant District Attorney Jesse Evans is prosecuting the case for the state.
State’s evidence, testimonies questioned
Attorneys for the three defendants, who sat directly behind the teens in the courtroom, argued that there wasn’t sufficient evidence showing that their clients were part of a gang or involved in the fight.
Marietta attorney Sidney Storesund, who represents Anthony, asked Owen what in the surveillance video indicated that the teens were attacking Chellew and not trying to keep Strozier from hitting him.
“I did not see anybody on the video trying to stop Mr. Strozier or pull him off of anybody,” Owen replied.
Marietta attorney Tom Griner, who represents Bonds, also asked a few question but it was Pass’s attorney Nathaniel Dobson who challenged several pieces of evidence in the investigation and asked in closing for all charges against his client to be dismissed.
Dobson questioned the witnesses’ testimonies of which teen hit Chellew in the highway saying it would have been too dark for them to decipher. He also implied that Chellew could have instigated the fight — “unfortunately for everyone involved” — because he was drunk, and that there isn’t sufficient evidence to show that the teens are in a gang.
“These young men just happen to be together that night and none of them consider themselves a gang,” Dobson said. “That is pure speculation on (the state’s) part.”
He also argued that the time frame of 45 seconds, which was given by one witness as to how long it took from start to finish for the incident to occur, didn’t allow enough time for all four teens to get into a deadly fight with Chellew.
“It’d be physically impossible for all of them as the state’s witness indicated to ‘take turns’ punching and hitting the gentleman while he was in the road,” Dobson said.
Aside from Owen, attorneys also briefly questioned Clarke, who told defense attorneys that he never saw anyone, including Strozier, ever hit Chellew, but that was because he walked away from the incident after grabbing the victim’s bandanna, and that the incident lasted less than a minute.