MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Jessie Dotson had been out of prison several months when an argument at his brother's house turned violent, authorities said, and he gunned the man down. Desperate not to return to jail, he tried to rid the scene of witnesses — shooting and killing three other adults, then using knives and boards to kill two of his brother's children and seriously injure three others, a prosecutor said at his trial Monday.
A defense attorney countered in his own opening statement that there isn't enough evidence to convict him of one of the city's worst mass killings, and that the brother had gang ties that could have played a role in the killings.
Dotson, 35, has pleaded not guilty to six first-degree murder charges in the slayings at the Memphis house in March 2008. Dotson also is charged with three counts of attempted first-degree murder.
Prosecutor Ray Lepone said Dotson shot his brother Cecil Dotson over their argument, then attacked the rest of the people in the house to eliminate witnesses. Authorities said he then fled on a child's bicycle.
"He wasn't going back to jail, ladies and gentlemen, and he did whatever he had to do to get out of that house with no witnesses," Lepone said.
Lepone displayed crime scene photos that showed blood on living room couches, bedroom floors and a bathtub. One photo of an X-ray showed a knife blade sticking out of the skull of Cecil Dotson Jr., then 9, who survived the attack and is expected to testify.
Dotson, who served prison time for murder and was released about seven months before the killings, confessed to police and to his mother days after the bodies were found, Lepone said.
Defense attorney Marty McAfee argued prosecutors don't have enough evidence. There is no DNA connecting Jessie Dotson to the scene, while police also found several unidentified fingerprints and hair from an unknown Asian person, McAfee said. The victims and the suspect are black.
McAfee also said Cecil Dotson had ties to Memphis' "Gangster Disciples" and suggested the killings could have been gang-related. Cecil Dotson recently had a falling out with a gang member and even called the police to a gang member's house, McAfee said.
"If your theory doesn't match the physical evidence, you change your theory," McAfee said. "The evidence is going to compel you to decide not guilty."
The jury was chosen last week in Nashville in an effort to find people unfamiliar with the case. In addition to national media coverage, the investigation was featured on A&E's reality crime television series "The First 48."
Shot to death were Jessie Dotson's 30-year-old brother Cecil; Marissa Williams, the brother's 27-year-old girlfriend; and Hollis Seals, 33, and Shindri Roberson, 22, a couple who were at the house visiting.
Four-year-old Cemario Dotson and 2-year-old Cecil Dotson II also were killed.
Lepone said the killings happened early March 2, but none of the victims or survivors were found until the next evening.
Part of Dotson's confession was videotaped and aired on the A&E show. Judge James Beasley has ruled the tape can't be shown at trial, but statements made during the confession are being admitted.
McAfee slammed Memphis police for participating in the show, saying detectives were eager to wrap up the case for the cameras.
"This kind of attention corrupts, it influences, it interferes with good solid police work," McAfee said.
Beasley warned the jury of the graphic nature of five photos they were shown of the dead adults and children and their bloody surroundings.
Memphis Fire Department driver Herbert Henley testified that after entering the home, he went into the bathroom, pulled back the shower curtain and saw a child with a blade protruding from his head. Then he saw the child's hand move and quickly called fellow crew members.
"I immediately turned and told him he was alive," Herbert said. "We kept telling him we was going to get him out there."