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Most charges advance in manhunt case

By MELINDA WILLIAMS
melinda@southwesttimer.com

A judge advanced five of seven charges against a man involved in an April manhunt in Pulaski; but he predicted prosecutors are going to need more evidence to get convictions as charged.
Referring to two attempted first-degree murder charges against Lardadian Javon Banian, Judge Glenwood Lookabill said issues of premeditation and malicious intent required to prove a first-degree offense may pose a problem without additional evidence at trial. The case “smells a whole lot more like attempted manslaughter,” he said.
However, for the purposes of a preliminary hearing, Lookabill indicated evidence was sufficient to show probable cause Banian committed the offenses. “Premeditation can be formed in an instant,” he said.
Prior to a Tuesday evening preliminary hearing, Banian, 25, of Pulaski, was charged with two counts of attempted first-degree murder, use of a firearm in the commission of a felony, two counts of shooting at an occupied vehicle, and being a nonviolent felon in possession of a firearm.
Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Dina Branco decided not to prosecute the firearm possession charge, so it was dismissed with the option to re-file. Judge Lookabill dismissed one of the charges of maliciously shooting at a vehicle, suggesting Banian’s alleged actions encompassed one incident, not two.
The remaining charges were certified to the grand jury for determination whether enough evidence exists to hold a trial at the circuit court level. The preliminary hearing was in Pulaski County General District Court.
Banian attorney Robert Canard attempted to nix Tuesday’s hearing before it began. He argued he cannot prepare an effective defense because prosecutors presented him with incomplete witness statements and names due to allegations the charged incident is linked to gang activity.
As a result of the gang allegations, The Southwest Times was asked, and has agreed, not to report the name of a prosecution witness who is fearful of retribution for her testimony.
According to that witness, she was attempting to drive into Meadowview Apartments April 26, with her children in her car, when a van was blocking her way. She said three people were in the van and she could hear them yelling, but wasn’t able to make out what they were saying.
When two people in the front pushed a man out the back of the van, the witness testified, the man pulled out a silver colored gun. She said she went into “mommy mode” turning to tell her children to get down.
The witness said the man with the gun pointed it in the direction of the van and fired two shots, then ran behind the apartment buildings.
Under defense cross-examination, the witness clarified she heard two shots and it appeared the man was firing at the van. However, she acknowledged she was involved in trying to protect her children.
Asked whether she knew any of the people in the van, the witness said she did not. She was, however, able to identify the man with the gun as Banian. She said she didn’t know him beforehand, but identified him in a police lineup using photographs.
According to Pulaski Police Department Lt. Jill Neice, two .32-caliber shell casings were found on the pavement in the area where the alleged shooting occurred. She said a “primer residue test,” formerly called a “gunshot residue test” was performed on Banian when he was arrested.
Neice did not testify to the outcome of the test, but Branco presented the judge with the lab report. Branco said later in the hearing that Banian’s hands tested positive for primer residue.
Banian was arrested in a vehicle on Bob White Boulevard four hours after a manhunt was initiated. The high-profile manhunt resulted in lockdowns at county schools and at least one business.
Pulaski County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Chris Clark said he spotted a man matching the suspect’s description in the Bob White Boulevard car. He initiated a stop, but when he went to get out of his patrol car, the man jumped out of the car and ran. The man appeared to have a gun, he testified.
When Banian was arrested, Pulaski Det. Wes Ratcliff interviewed him at the scene of the arrest and at the jail several days later. He said Banian maintained that he got into the van to buy some shoes, but the people in the van robbed him at gunpoint of $200. Banian said he got out of the van, heard two shots and ran from the scene.
Ratcliff says video surveillance from Washington Square Apartments doesn’t support Banian’s version of events. The video was shown to Judge Lookabill during the hearing. Ratcliff identified Banian in the footage and narrated portions to which Canard didn’t object.
According to Ratcliff, police searched the home of a woman who was in the Bob White Boulevard vehicle with the suspect. He testified a silver .32-caliber David Industries handgun, wrapped in plastic, was found inside the water tank on a toilet.
On cross-examination, Ratcliff testified no useable fingerprints were found on the handgun and casings collected at the scene.
Ratcliff testified two rounds found inside the gun appeared to be the same type as the ones from the scene. However, he acknowledged he didn’t officially cross-reference them.
Canard asked Judge Lookabill to strike the prosecution’s evidence and dismiss the case against Banian. He said the evidence fails to show his client had a willful intent to kill the people in the van.
Canard contends Banian didn’t fire the shots in the first place because the van apparently wasn’t struck. “If he had wanted to shot at the van, the shots would have hit the van,” he told the judge, suggesting the van was so close to Banian it would have been like “hitting the side of a barn.”
At best, Canard argued, prosecution evidence shows attempted manslaughter because being shoved out of the van provoked Banian.
Judge Lookabill questioned whether any prosecution witness had identified, by name, the other two people in the van. He noted the attempted murder charges specifically name the men, so evidence will need to provide identifications.
“I can almost guarantee the charges aren’t going to end up being what’s alleged here unless there’s a lot more evidence,” Lookabill said before advancing most of the charges to the grand jury.

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