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The trial of a man accused of gunning down another customer in a Beaufort sandwich shop in July 2011 began Tuesday with agreement between the defense and the prosecution: The accused, Rajerick Lovell Knight, 25, pulled the trigger.
The 14th Circuit Solicitor's Office argues the killing of Travis Sentell Holmes was a brazen, "public execution." Knight's lawyers contend Holmes' long history of violence pushed Knight to shoot him.
Prosecutors -- Solicitor Duffie Stone and his deputy, Sean Thornton -- called 16 witnesses Tuesday and played two three-minute, silent surveillance clips taken from different angles taken the day of the killing inside a Subway restaurant at Cross Creek Shopping Center. One showed Holmes, 28 at the time of his death, entering the store just after Knight and his friend, Shicarra Smalls, paid for their food.
The three passed each other at the doorway without incident, but about a minute later, Knight returned.
He nudged another customer to the side as he approached Holmes, who was handing a cashier a $20 bill. The footage showed Holmes' body jerking in a high arc toward the counter as Knight turned on his heel and strode quickly away.
Holmes stumbled after Knight, then out of the camera's range. Witnesses testified he fell to his knees on the sidewalk near the door.
Forensic pathologist Nicholas Batalis did an autopsy on Holmes at Charleston's Medical University of South Carolina and testified Tuesday that Knight's gun was pressed to the ribs, about nine inches below his armpit, when it was fired. The bullet went through both lungs, above the heart.
Holmes was pronounced dead at the scene.
Half of the people called by the prosecution -- including Smalls -- said they saw all or part of the incident.
Smalls, who said she had known both men for years, rode to the Subway that day with Knight in his black 1999 Ford Crown Victoria. She said she never saw a gun on either man that day, and didn't realize what happened when Knight went back in the shop.
Smalls said she initially thought Holmes was going to shoot at Knight's car when she saw him come out of the shop because of "hearsay on the streets" about a feud between the men. She said she saw Holmes drop to the ground before they drove away.
Stone asked Smalls to identify the person driving the black car that witnesses said the shooter entered. She wiped away a few tears after pointing at Knight, briefly making eye contact with him.
Small said that after they drove away from the shop, Knight made a phone call and told the person on the other line that he had just shot Holmes.
During testimony, Knight sat between his attorneys wearing a gray-green suit jacket and white turtleneck sweater. His face was expressionless as four witnesses identified him as Holmes' killer.
The prosecution has one more witness to call before it rests its case, Stone told Judge Craig Brown.
Arie Bax, one of Knight's attorneys, said his client shot Holmes because he had a history of violence against him, his family and others.
"Public record shows that Travis Holmes was an absolute terror," Bax said. "When he didn't like someone, he shot them."
About six weeks before the incident, Knight's mobile home in Burton was shot 18 times while his pregnant girlfriend and 4-year-old, adopted son were inside, Bax said.
Bax said Beaufort County Sheriff's Office deputies named Holmes as a suspect in their report on the shooting, but never made an arrest.
"We are trying our best to present both sides of the story," Bax said. "What was going on with the defendant and his relationship with the victim. ... It was not just a random shooting."
The trial will resume at 9 a.m. today in General Session Court. Attorneys expect the trial will likely go through Thursday. Bax said he could call as many as 21 witnesses.
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- Police ID suspect in fatal shooting, search for clues continues, July 28, 2011