By Neal Putnam
A murder trial opened Monday for a man charged with beating a 71-year-old gay man to death, but his lawyer told jurors “the actual murderers” were two co-defendants who pleaded guilty to lesser charges.
The case involves the 2000 death of LeRay “Mac” Parkins, a choir member at Metropolitan Community Church in San Diego, who died several days after being struck in the head with a baseball bat during a morning robbery in North Park.
Advances in forensic DNA technology led to the arrest of Edward Jamar Brooks, now 39, in North Carolina in 2018, after the empty pockets of Parkins’ shorts were tested for DNA. His wallet was taken in the robbery and a crime lab technician testified Monday that Brooks’ DNA was found in three places of one empty pocket.
Brooks’ attorney, Robert Ford, conceded in his opening statement before a nine-man, three-woman jury and San Diego Superior Court Judge Runston Maino that Brooks took his wallet and that’s why his DNA was there.
Ford pointed to photos of Lester Roshunn Bell, now 39, and Terrence Maurice Brown, now 38, as the “real murderers” who made plea arrangements with prosecutors, leaving his client “the odd man out.” Ford described Bell as wanting “to save his own skin.”
Deputy District Attorney Christina Arrollado Schleicher told jurors both men will testify that Brooks struck Parkins and “took his wallet as he lay dying.” Parkins was attacked around 8:30 a.m. in an alley behind 3675 Pershing Ave. in North Park.
Bell pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and faces up to 11 years in prison. Brown, the getaway driver, pleaded guilty to robbery and faces five years in prison. They will be sentenced Nov. 15.
Parkins’ lover, Cordell Hill, testified Monday they were together 20 years. Hill recalled Parkins not returning home from his walk and later discovered him in a hospital where he died two days later without regaining consciousness.
Hill testified several credit card bills on Parkins’ card arrived about a month after the attack. Arrollado said the trio bought clothes, and a cashier — who was Bell’s ex-girlfriend — remembered the purchases by the men.
Ford said Brooks saw Bell and Brown fighting with Parkins and he ran up to them and pushed the victim down, grabbing his wallet. Ford said “Mr. Parkins was landing some serious punches” to Brown before they left.
“[Brown] got beat up by a 71-year-old man,” said Ford, who added that Brown got a baseball bat out of the car trunk and went back and beat Parkins with it.
Deputy medical examiner Christopher Swalwell testified the victim had two skull fractures with brain injuries. “There was virtually no chance of his recovering,” said Swalwell.
MCC senior pastor Rev. Dan Koeshall remembered Parkins as “having the most beautiful Irish tenor voice” when Koeshall was the church’s music director.
Brooks, Bell, and Brown all remain in jail. Brooks has pleaded not guilty.