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P.O.E.T.S. worker testifies during second day of murder trial

P.O.E.T.S. worker testifies during second day of murder trial

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Prosecutors said a video played in court Wednesday shows Christopher Schmotzer driving away minutes after a 29-year-old was shot dead in his vehicle in 2009.

And a witness in the murder trial of the 38-year-old College Station man said he saw Schmotzer staring at the victim for hours at a bar prior to the shooting.

Wednesday was the second day of Schmotzer's trial. He could face up to life in prison if found guilty of the murder of College Station bartender Rufus Stephens.

Cruz Hurrey, who works at P.O.E.T.S. Billiards, said he saw Schmotzer playing darts with a friend on the night of Jan. 2, 2009. As Hurrey picked up empty beer glasses from the bar's tables, he noticed Schmotzer staring at Stephens and his group of friends throughout the night.

Hurrey said he is in charge of breaking up fights in the bar and was worried that he might have to step in.

"It was concerning enough to make an impression on me," he said. "I just remember going, 'I don't know what that guy's problem is.'"

Prosecutors have said they will call witnesses who saw Schmotzer approach one of Stephens' friends and ask about the hockey jersey he was wearing. The jersey was for Washington Capitals player Alexander Ovechkin, prosecutors said. Schmotzer told the friend that he played the video game World of Warcraft with someone who used the screen name Ovechkin, prosecutors said.

Hurrey testified that he never saw Schmotzer interact with Stephens, who regularly visited the bar with his co-workers from the nearby Ozona Bar and Grill. He said he was relieved when the bar closed for the night without incident.

But another P.O.E.T.S. employee ran into the bar after closing time crying about seeing someone hurt in the parking lot, Hurrey said. He rushed outside and saw Stephens bloody and slumped over in his car, he said.

College Station police Officer Travis Lacox was the first officer to arrive around 3:37 a.m. The pictures he took of the scene were displayed for jurors on Wednesday.

They showed Stephens dressed in a bloody green-collared shirt and blue jeans. He was wearing his seat belt but was hanging out the door of his red truck. A hat was wedged between his seat and the inside of the truck's side panel.

One picture showed a bullet hole on the passenger door. Lacox said he found a .40-caliber bullet casing near the rear driver's-side tire.

About seven hours later, Lacox visited nearby stores to see if they had any surveillance footage of the shooting. He found a video from Spec's Liquor Store that showed

12 cars leaving the P.O.E.T.S. parking lot within a 11/2-hour span around when the shooting occurred.

Lawyers focused on a pickup that could be seen driving away around 2:47 a.m. Authorities said they believe the truck belongs to Schmotzer.

Wednesday's proceedings only lasted half the day because District Judge J.D. Langley had a courthouse renovation meeting in the afternoon. The trial is expected to continue all day Thursday and then take a break for the 4th of July holiday on Friday.

Prosecutors Shane Phelps and Brian Baker have indicated that they expect to present forensic evidence that the bullet that killed Stephens was fired from a gun found in Schmotzer's car.

Schmotzer's defense attorney, Stephen Gustitis, challenged the evidence presented so far. He expressed doubt that Hurrey was able to accurately guess his client's emotional state in a crowded bar. He also questioned the suggestion that police knew that the truck leaving the parking lot at 2:47 a.m. belonged to Schmotzer. The video image was low-quality, and an initial report described the vehicle as something that "appears" to be a truck.

Gustitis has also said that his client had no reason to kill Stephens, and prosecutors have been unable to find any connection between the two men.

Schmotzer has remained attentive during most of the testimony. At times, he has whispered into his lawyer's ear and has chatted with the bailiff and family members during breaks in the trial.

Click here for Matthew Watkins' live blog from the courtroom.

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