Former Cleveland Police Department Investigator Eric Hampton testified Tuesday that while he was working the case Twanna “Tart” Blair was always considered a "victim" in the Valentine’s Day murders in 1999.
However, Ms. Blair is currently standing trial in Cleveland in the case in which Cayci Higgins, Dawn Rogers and Orienthal “O.J.” Blair were murdered.
The state initially sought the death penalty against Ms. Blair, but is no longer making that request.
Maurice Johnson was sentenced on Aug. 25 to three life sentences after being found guilty in a separate trial. Michael Younger is to be tried later.
Officer Hampton, who is now a sergeant in Alabama, said he was called to investigate the case the day of the murders. When he arrived, medics were taking Ms. Blair from the scene. He said he then reviewed the scene of the crime, where the three victims were lying dead, and requested someone contact the Tennessee Bureau of Investigations (TBI) for assistance.
Later that day, Sgt. Hampton met with Ms. Blair at Erlanger Hospital to discuss her memory of the events.
Also, under his supervision, officers canvassed the area and made a list of individuals who knew the victims.
“There were countless interviews that were conducted by the team on that particular case,” Sgt. Hampton said. He said the interviews continued as long as he was with the CPD (he left in 2004), though the interviews typically led to dead-ends.
Under cross-examination, Sgt. Hampton said he was never shown evidence that Ms. Blair was in on the murders. Rather, she was considered a victim throughout the five years of Sgt. Hampton’s investigations.
According to Sgt. Hampton, Ms. Blair’s account of the murders began with a knock at the back door. She attempted to see who was knocking, but couldn’t. Suddenly, the back door was forced open, a few white males with short hair came in and Ms. Blair was tackled. The men – two, three or four of them – asked if there were drugs or weapons in the house. They proceeded to grab the other three individuals in the home. Ms. Blair was bound with wire ties and shot.
She thought she was dying, so she began to pray. She then heard multiple shots. Eventually, she made her way to the kitchen, where she retrieved a knife and was able to cut herself loose. She then used a phone to call 911, hours after the shootings.
“Twanna Blair, just because she lived, was no less a victim than O.J. Blair,” defense attorney Lee Davis of Chattanooga said. “Correct?”
“Twanna Blair was no less a victim than Dawn Rogers?”
“Twanna Blair was no less a victim than Cayci Higgins?”
Angelo Goldston said he knew O.J. and Twanna Blair (O.J. and Twanna were cousins) and was with both of them the night before the murders took place. He said O.J. Blair had a little “snort bag” of cocaine on him and maybe a little money.
He admitted that he had been at the Blairs’ apartment the week before the murders and had seen a small handgun sitting on a table at the apartment.
Prosecutor Richard Fischer at one point requested the witness be considered a hostile witness, a request that was overruled.
Defense attorney Davis then asked how the Blairs acted toward one another shortly before the murder. According to witness Goldston, they acted normal. He said at a party later that week, O.J. Blair got into a fight with someone in Sweetwater. He said Blair didn’t have a weapon, but someone fired shots after Blair had “gotten the best of whom he was fighting.” But he said there was no bad blood between the two Blairs.
Cleveland Police Department Sergeant Walter Mitchell said he was called to the scene of the crime on the day of the slayings.
Sgt. Mitchell said, “The call was pretty confusing. It gave several accounts of what was going on.”
He went on to explain that as he approached the building, he could hear someone screaming for help. This person later turned out to be Ms. Blair. When Sgt. Mitchell and another officer went in the building, they saw bodies on the floor. He then cleared the bottom of the apartment to ensure no one was inside the lower level until his supervisor arrived.
Sgt. Mitchell said he noticed damage to the back door, but he didn’t evaluate it closely. Rather, he and another officer were busy sealing off the scene with crime tape, while an emergency professional tended to Ms. Blair.
Officer Michael Harris, also with the Cleveland Police Department, said he also was called to the crime of the scene. He said he and another officer went to the rear door of the apartment building, while other officers went to the front door. Upon reaching the back door, Officer Harris said, “I could see the screen door was bent somewhat and the main exterior door was ajar.”
Reading from a report, attorney Davis stated that Officer Harris saw many things at the scene of the crime, including a black-handled kitchen knife in the floor, a bullet hole with blood smear and a small portable phone.
According to the report, Ms. Blair stated that she and other victims were shot three to four hours before being able to call emergency responders.
Prior to bringing the jury in, a courtroom officer had warned those in attendance, “You’re going to see hard evidence, you’re going to hear hard evidence. There can’t be any outbursts. We can’t tolerate anything that would influence this jury whatsoever.”
With that, the all-white jury from Bradley County had walked into the court to begin hearing the case.