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Solomon "Troy" Hester called 911 in tears, telling an operator, "my girl just shot herself."
In a recording of the call, the voices of two little girls, ages 9 and 10, could be heard in the background, before Hester ordered them back into their bedroom. On the living room sofa, the girls’ mother, 30-year-old Allison Brownell, lay dead of a gunshot wound to the head.
"This can’t be happening," Hester said into the phone. "This is not right. What am I gonna do with these girls? I can’t tell ’em nothin’."
Hall County Superior Court jurors on Monday heard opening statements and the prosecution’s first witnesses in the murder trial of Hester, 32, who is charged with gunning down his live-in girlfriend during a drunken argument on the night of Oct. 1, 2007. Hester told authorities Brownell shot herself. When the first deputies arrived at the couple’s Belvedere Drive home off Price Road, they found a .40-caliber pistol under Brownell’s left hand.
"Troy Hester did not shoot Allison Brownell," assistant circuit defender Brett Willis told the jury in his opening statement as more than 30 friends and family of the defendant looked on from the gallery. "Troy Hester did not kill Allison Brownell ... Troy Hester is 100 percent innocent."
Assistant District Attorney Kelley Robertson quoted the words Allison Brownell’s oldest daughter heard her mother say before a shot rang out.
"‘You put your hands on me one more time, and I’m calling the cops,’" Robertson said in her opening statement. "Those were the very last words that 10-year-old Destiny Brownell heard her mother say, and then she heard the big boom."
Robertson said officers who examined the scene saw "things were not adding up" to a suicide.
"The defendant’s story did not match the physical evidence," Robertson said.
Blood spatter, the trajectory of the bullet and the fact that Brownell, who was right-handed, supposedly fired the gun with her left hand were all indications that the shooting was no suicide, Robertson told the jury. The angle at which Brownell would have held the gun would have also have been "uncomfortable," according to experts, she said.
"This case is about the details," Robertson said.
Willis told the jury that Brownell confided in a close friend days before the shooting that she was upset and suspicious that Hester was seeing another woman.
"She said her heart hurt," Willis said.
Willis said Brownell’s blood alcohol limit was about four times the threshold of legal intoxication at the time of her death.
"Allison held the .40-caliber pistol to her left temple. She argued with Troy, he argued back," Willis said. "He reaches in to take the gun from her, and the shot is fired."
"You are about to enter a heartbreaking tragedy of staggering proportions," Willis told the jury.
Jurors were shown photographs of Brownell’s lifeless body slumped over on her right side on the sofa. By the time photographs were taken, the gun had been taken from under her hand by the first-responding deputies so that paramedics could administer to her. No one initially on the scene had a camera to record how the gun was first found.
"Safety comes over evidence," Deputy Kevin Snyder testified.
Snyder and Lt. Neal Bagwell demonstrated for the jury how Brownell’s hand rested on the gun — the trigger finger inside the trigger guard and three other fingers resting on the grip, but the thumb not wrapped around the grip.
"Why did you remove the gun?" Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Bagwell asked the lieutenant.
"It was in a dangerous position for the paramedics to get in there and check for signs of life," Neal Bagwell said. "It could have gone off."
"Do you wish now you had had a camera?" the prosecutor asked.
"Yes, ma’am, I wish all of us were equipped with them," he replied.
Neal Bagwell said when he arrived, some eight minutes after Hester’s tearful 911 call, the defendant’s demeanor was "calm, no emotion to speak of."
Hester is free on bond and spent time during breaks from Monday’s testimony talking with several supporters in the courthouse hall.
Judge Bonnie Chessher Oliver has indicated to jurors the trial could last more than a week.