The trial of the man accused of the killing T.I.'s assistant and boyhood friend, Philant Johnson, began in Cincinnati on Tuesday. Hosea Thomas, 34, is charged with murder, felonious assault and several other charges in the incident, which took place on the streets of Cincinnati after an appearance by Tip at a local nightclub on May 3, 2006.
According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, Hamilton County prosecutors told a jury on Tuesday that they are sure that Thomas fired the fatal shot that killed Johnson because their star witness, Thomas' older brother, Padron Thomas, was driving the Jeep that the brothers were traveling in as they chased the rapper and his crew that night. The running gun battle resulted in three of T.I.'s crew being injured and the death of Johnson, who was shot in the head in the incident. The assault came after T.I. had performed a concert that night and appeared at an afterparty at a local club later in the evening.
"It's all going to come down to witness testimony," Assistant Prosecutor Heather Gosselin told jurors, according to the paper. Thomas' lawyer, Charles Isaly, agreed with Gosselin's point on the importance of witness testimony, but he warned jurors that all of the witnesses against his client were shady characters and that many of them, including Padron, were rolling over on Hosea in order to get lighter sentences for their crimes.
"Credibility. That's what this case comes down to," Isaly said, according to the Enquirer. Isaly did not say in his opening statement that Thomas didn't fire the shots that killed Johnson. "[Prosecutors] just don't have enough. They just don't have enough evidence," Isaly claimed.
The shooting — which is referenced in several songs on T.I.'s Paper Trail album — remained unsolved for a year, until three people charged with federal gun crimes, among them Padron Thomas, contacted authorities and said they had information on Johnson's murder.
Gosselin said that Hosea Thomas was hit in the head with a bottle while attending a T.I. afterparty at Club Ritz, which started a fight that resulted in patrons pouring out of the club. Soon after, T.I. and his crew fled the scene in two vans and were chased by the green Jeep Cherokee driven by Padron Thomas, 40, who told officials that his brother fired at T.I.'s vans and that at least one of the rapper's crew returned fire, the Enquirer reported.
Cincinnati Police Officer Dom Meece testified that the scene inside one of T.I.'s vans was like "something out of a horror movie," with blood dripping from the ceiling. Gosselin said that after the shooting, Padron Thomas had his Jeep painted black and had a bullet hole repaired.
In exchange for testifying against his brother, Padron has gotten an agreement from prosecutors to drop murder charges against him, allowing him to plead guilty to manslaughter and serve whatever sentence he gets concurrently with his federal sentence on gun charges, which essentially means he will serve no additional time for his part in the shooting.
The trial is expected to last into next week, and T.I. is slated to testify at some point in the proceedings. A year after the incident, T.I. was arrested on federal gun charges, and he told MTV News earlier this year that part of the reason he was trying to buy machines guns and silencers was because of his intense fears about his family's safety after Johnson's murder.