Cecil Dotson was a Gangster Disciple trying to leave the street gang at a time when the Memphis part of the street gang was in turmoil.
That’s the backdrop that the defense in the murder trial of Jesse Dotson will use as the case unfolds at the Criminal Justice Center with a jury from Nashville.
Defense attorney Marty McAfee laid out the scenario on the first day of the trial Tuesday in his opening statement. It guarantees the jury and the many Memphians watching the trial will be hearing a lot about gang life and gang rivalries, a possible connection Memphis police investigated and later dismissed according to prosecutors.
Dotson is being tried in Criminal Court for the worst mass murder in modern Memphis history. He is accused of killing six people, including his brother Cecil and trying to kill three children.
McAfee raised the name of Craig Petties, the alleged leader of the largest and most violent drug organization ever prosecuted in Memphis federal court.
McAfee talked in general terms about Petties, a figure he is familiar with.
McAfee is lead attorney for Martin Lewis, one of Petties’ codefendants. Lewis is one of four codefendants facing murder for hire charges as well as racketeering and money laundering charges along with Petties. Federal prosecutors originally considered seeking the federal death penalty against Lewis and the three others but recently decided against it. Neither prosecutors nor defense attorneys for Petties have said what decision Justice Department officials in Washington made about seeking the death penalty for Petties.
The federal case against Petties is that he ran a multi state drug organization starting in 1995 that was rooted in his status as a Gangster Disciple and his direct ties to the Sinaloa drug cartel in Mexico. When Petties was about to be indicted on federal drug charges in 2002, he fled to Mexico where he allegedly ran the drug operation in Memphis by cell phone for the next six years.
Petties was arrested in Mexico and brought back to the United States less than three months before the Lester Street murders.
“Somebody snitched and he (Petties) got arrested in Mexico and that happened very close to the time that these killings occurred,” McAfee told the jury.
Weeks before the Lester Street killings, Eric Brown, described by McAfee as the Gangster Disciples overseer for Memphis, was shot to death by Vernon Motley, whom he identified as a member of the rival Traveling Vice Lords gang.
Motley’s girlfriend was a first cousin of Cecil Dotson, according to McAfee. In the weeks after the February shooting of Brown, McAfee described a search by Gangster Disciples for the gun used to kill Brown. Police were also looking for Brown by early March as a suspect in the murder.
Motley was arrested and charged with Brown’s murder in April, a month after the Lester Street murders. Prior to the charges, McAfee said Gangster Disciples were looking for the gun that had killed their leader, presumably to track down who was responsible.
“He’s freaking out,” McAfee said of Cecil Dotson. “He’s hearing, ‘What do you have to do with this gun? Why are people asking (him) about this?’”
Hours before he died, McAfee said the defense will show that Cecil Dotson tried to buy a gun from a gang associate and that the encounter ended in an argument.
It was unclear whether Cecil Dotson had a “falling out” with the gang member then or earlier. But McAfee said Dotson had called police at some point to the house.
“That’s kind of frowned on in the Gangster Disciples,’ he said.
More disturbing was an excerpt from a transcript of a March 6, 2008 hospital interview a trained forensic investigator from the Child Advocacy Center did with nine year old Cecil Dotson. He is the oldest survivor of the attack and prosecutors say he will testify that Jesse Dotson killed his father and five other people and tried to kill him.
Prosecutor Ray Lepone told the jury it took time to talk to the child about the attack because of his medical condition. He said the boy was at first spouting obscenities in a rambling monologue that may have been him reliving the attack.
But the passages read by McAfee paint a very different picture of the questioning.
In those passages, the boy appeared to have answered the questions about the attack, punctuated by continually calling his questioner “bitch.”
In that version, McAfee said the boy claimed a woman known to the family knocked on the door of the house on Lester Street and got in the house followed by someone named “Roderick” or “Roger” who “got on down.”